By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
The Taunton River's new hard-won federal designation of "wild and scenic" may seem odd to some. The river has a rich industrial history and people still refer to nearby waterways as Bleachery Pond or "tannery" lagoons.
|Seagulls fishing for herring at Oliver Mill Park in Middleboro (Photo courtesy of Kerry Crisley, TNC)|
Yet the 40-mile long waterway is getting cleaner all the time and remains the longest undammed coastal river in New England, winding from headwaters in the mysterious Hockomock Swamp to Mount Hope Bay near Fall River. Known to early human settlers at “Great River” or “Tetequet”, the Taunton River watershed supports the largest herring run in New England (up to two million fish will be swimming the river and its tributaries over the next 2-3 weeks) and rainbow smelt that striped bass and bluefish enter the river to feed upon. Dozens of species call the river home, including the rare Northern redbelly cooter turtle and rare bridle shiner fish, river otters and seven freshwater mussel species.
The designation, given to 11,000 miles of rivers in the country since 1968, will require the Taunton to be preserved in free-flowing condition and prohibits the federal government from funding or issuing permits for water withdrawal or other projects that could have a “direct and adverse impact”.
Officials have been trying for years to better protect the river from increasing pressures related to development.
According to one projection, the watershed is supposed to undergo a 16 percent population growth by 2025. Analysts predict that the water requirements of the area's roughly 177,000 new would exceed 12 million gallons a day.
Recently, the developer of a proposed Fall River liquefied natural gas terminal that wanted to have gas tankers use the Taunton River was turned down by the Coast Guard.
“The Taunton River is the cornerstone of a 562 square mile freshwater system, providing essential services like water filtration, flood protection and recreation to 38 towns,” said Wayne Klockner, director of The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts.
It "is a major milestone in our campaign to save the Taunton River and its watershed,” said Carolyn LaMarre, Executive Director of the Taunton River Watershed Alliance. “In taking this action, Congress has ensured that the river will remain free flowing in perpetuity, and will be protected now and in the future.”