The Taunton River Watershed, home to the longest undammed tidal river in New England and the region’s largest herring run, is also the most rapidly developing watershed in Massachusetts. Development pressures compounded by climate change are impacting both the ecological systems and the vulnerability of local communities. The SNEP Network identified the watershed for a pilot project, and following a community engagement process facilitated by regional partners, the Canoe River Aquifer Resilience Project was selected for SNEP Network support.
Within the Taunton River Watershed, the Canoe River Aquifer is a sole-source aquifer co-located within the towns of Easton, Foxborough, Mansfield, Norton, and Sharon, Massachusetts. For more than 50,000 people, it is the only viable source of drinking water. The Canoe River Aquifer was designated an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) by the state more than 20 years ago, but protecting the watershed heavily relies on local policies and enforcement. Communities reliant on the aquifer have developed town and regional planning initiatives through the Massachusetts Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program in consultation with local partners Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), The Nature Conservancy, Mass Audubon, and Manomet; however, there was no regional mechanism in place to advance these plans.
With assistance from SNEP Network partners and consultants Kimberly Groff Consulting, Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay, and the University of New Hampshire, the Canoe River Aquifer Resilience Project will build local capacity by integrating regional planning and local monitoring, with an emphasis on broad community engagement. Based on existing plans, the project will identify and prioritize Nature Based Solutions (NBS) to protect the watershed. (NBS protect, manage, and restore ecosystems to mitigate threats to the watershed, primarily by increasing the ability of the landscape to absorb and filter water – read more about NBS and case studies in the Taunton River Watershed here.)
The 5 communities have already identified hundreds of potential NBS projects to address the hazards facing the Canoe River Aquifer. The SNEP Network team will use a systems view to explore the common barriers to implementing NBS in the region, and will also leverage a tool recently developed by The Nature Conservancy in collaboration with the MVP Program to site NBS for climate resilience.
Project implementation will be advanced based on community outreach. The SNEP Network team formed a community-based steering committee, and solicits project input through public meetings as well as targeted outreach to underserved and environmental justice communities. All 5 towns are represented, allowing for peer-to-peer exchanges, enhanced collaboration, and public and stakeholder feedback. SNEP Network consultant and project manager, Kimberly Groff, notes that the likelihood of success is high because of the existing strong relationships with and between the towns in the region, local planning groups, and state-designated land protections. “We can achieve more by working together,” she explained.
Groff also hopes that SNEP Network assistance will build capacity in the participating towns by providing the tools and resources needed to continue collaborating and advancing NBS projects towards implementation even after the project is completed in 2022.
Jennifer Carlino, Environmental Planner for the Town of Easton has been an enthusiastic supporter of the project since its inception. “We are grateful for the Network assistance to organize community discussions that will advance the implementation of NBS projects in the region. Without the SNEP Network support, it is unlikely that these discussions would be occurring,” said Carlino. Easton is currently implementing a sampling and analysis plan and volunteer monitoring program for the Sam Wright Field Wetland restoration, developed by the SNEP Network.
“We are pleased to support this important project for the region” stated Danica Belknap, Environmental Planner for SRPEDD. “The Canoe River Aquifer Resilience Project has the potential to serve as a regional model for aquifer protection, improved water quality, habitat restoration, inclusive community-based planning, and climate resiliency.” To learn more, visit the project website or view the StoryMap.