The chips are falling into place for the restoration of the upper regions of the Quashnet River.
With everything running smoothly, anglers could try their hands at reeling in a brook trout from the river within three years.
Town Meeting earlier this month gave the green light for the Mashpee Conservation Department to use $320,000 in Community Preservation Act funding to start the planning and permitting for the river restoration project.
Also recently, the department and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center were able to negotiate the release of nearly $900,000 from the US Air Force that will go toward the construction of the project, whether the department decides to realign the river or restore it at its current alignment. The funds had been earmarked for the removal of a berm installed decades ago as a way to contain contamination from the base, but which is leading to the river’s degradation.
Conservation agent Andrew R. McManus said the negotiations with the base environmental group have been years in the making, but he is excited that the project is ramping up.
“We have the lion’s share of funding,” the conservation agent said in an interview following Town Meeting.
The next phase of the project includes surveying and sampling around the project area. Horsley Witten Group, tapped to lead the planning and permitting, will have a sit-down with the conservation department, and Mr. McManus hopes to have a ribbon-cutting of sorts to officially launch the project in a month or two.
The ultimate goal of the conservation project is to restore the cold-water fishery to its pre-industry condition in the upper regions: brook trout formerly populated the river, along with Atlantic white cedar forests and wetlands.
With planning, permitting, and construction, Mr. McManus said that in two to three years the project could be completed, although he admitted that was optimistic.
Further steps yet to be funded include the restoration of wetlands in the area and bringing back the white cedar forest.
The lower regions of the river have been somewhat of a model for success in restoring rivers. The local chapter of Trout Unlimited, coordinated by Francis H. Smith, has led a restoration effort of the Quashnet since 1976. The upper regions of the river could be next.
In the 1800s, the Quashnet was a popular fishing river. But a shingle mill in the area and the prominence of cranberry bogs led to dramatic changes in the river. Water diversion structures stretched the Quashnet, interrupted fish passage and rerouted the actual river. The river, Mr. McManus said, originally started from springs at what was called Whitcomb’s swamp, rather than at Johns Pond, where it currently starts.
A large hindrance to the flow of the river, and its ultimate health, was a 4,000-foot-long berm installed by the Air Force in the late 1990s.
The conservation agent said that one part of the berm was built on top of cranberry bog peat. When workers came back from lunch after setting that one section, it had already begun to sink.
Ultimately, the berm failure led to sediment seeping into the river and as a result, the river widened and slowed. Then the water temperature increased, and the brook trout habitat was destroyed. Brook trout prefer cooler water.
With a more slowly moving river, more vegetation grows in it, which slows the river further. Mr. McManus said that his department has had to cut back vegetation annually to provide a route for the river.
Horsley will provide groundwater modeling, track the flow of the river, temperatures, topography and other surveying of the site. The group, Mr. McManus said, will determine the best scenarios for fish passage and for a cold water hatchery, whether it means realignment of the Quashnet or restoring the river in its current path.
A case has been made to realign the river to the edge of the cranberry bog, rather than right down the middle of the bogs. One consideration: the conservation agent said it would be costly using heavy machinery in the middle of the former bogs.
But more importantly, though, Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife has tracked a good flow on the bog’s edge. Additionally, a hill and forest would provide good shade to the river, which could further cool the river for trout. And, preliminary studies have shown that the substrate on the edge is a more sandy and gravelly material, good for a river bottom compared to a mucky substrate.
But Horsley will look at all the options before bringing a recommendation forward, Mr. McManus said.
The conservation agent said that the release of funds from the Joint Base Cape Cod’s engineer center should cover most of the cost of construction, but the town could secure other grants if need be. He said while negotiations took years, the Air Force and engineer center have been on board with the project. They have agreed to give $884,000.
The Air Force had earmarked the funds to remove the 4,000 linear feet of earthen berm. But the town negotiated to use the funds to remove just the part of the berm impacting the river and to use the remainder of the funds to restore the river. The rest of the berm, Mr. McManus said, is innocuous.