Cooperatove Conservation Project

Norwalk River Watershed Initiative

Community Involvement in Watershed Restoration

Location: Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Region: Connecticut New York

Project Summary: The Norwalk River Watershed Initiative is restoring the Norwalk watershed by improving water quality, habitat, and flood management through local decision making.
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Volunteers plant trees, shrubs and grasses on the banks of the Norwalk River in Wilton
Resource Challenge
The Norwalk River Watershed is relatively small, draining 40,000 acres  along a 20-mile stretch through Connecticut and New York, entering Long Island Sound just 40 miles northeast of Manhattan.  Once, the river was lined with grist mills, iron processors, and lumber mills. All  are gone, but seven dams remain, impeding migration for Atlantic  salmon, alewives, blueback herring, and trout.
The Norwalk watershed is heavily populated; urban near the mouth of the Norwalk River, forested and suburban in the upper reaches.  Many of its water quality problems stem from stormwater runoff, loss of riparian vegetation, and direct discharges.  Several stretches of the river do not meet water quality standards for swimming or migratory  fish. Paved surfaces reduce water infiltration and influence the river’s water level, making it unnaturally high when the weather is wet and  unnaturally low during dry periods.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed this project  to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)  to test approaches that might work in the Long Island Sound’s  watershed communities.  Discussions with municipalities, local  groups, and individuals revealed interest in protecting the Norwalk  River Watershed, leading to the new partnership.
Examples of Key Partners
Connecticut and New York communities: Norwalk, Wilton, New Canaan, Weston, Redding, Ridgefi eld and Lewisboro; Trout  Unlimited, Norwalk River Watershed Association, New York Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Results and Accomplishments
Norwalk River Watershed Initiative partners created three  programs: 1) Streamwalks, which uses trained volunteers to assess stream conditions, 2) the Municipal Regulations Review, and 3) training in collaborative watershed planning.  These tools help communities with resource assessments, watershed land use planning, and decision-making.  All are now statewide programs.  The Norwalk partnership has:
  •  Rehabilitated more than 6,000 linear feet of stream corridor.
  • Increased juvenile wild trout populations by 137 percent; one river section was upgraded from a “Put and Take” fishery to a Category 3 Wild Trout Management Area.
  • Completed more than 14 acres of invasive species control.
  • Completed designs and secured funding for restoring fish passage at the fi rst of three planned sites.
  • Installed an automated early flood warning system.
  • Established a citizen water quality monitoring program.  

The Norwalk River Watershed initiative designed three programs to assist communities with watershed-based land use planning and decision-making: a volunteer streamside monitoring program, a Municipal regulations review process, and training in collaborative watershed planning

Project Contact
Walter Smith
Water Quality Coordinator
USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service



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