Connecticut watershed map
The Connecticut River Watershed is the largest river ecosystem in New England, encompassing approximately 11,000 square miles and spanning over four New England states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The headwaters of the river are at the Fourth Connecticut Lake next to the Canadian border. The river enters Massachusetts through the Town of Northfield and drains all or part of 45 municipalities before entering Connecticut through the Towns of Agawam and Longmeadow. It empties into Long Island Sound at Old Saybrook, CT.

The watershed was designated the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge by an Act of Congress in 1991 and later became designated as a National Heritage River by President Clinton in 1998. It is the first of its kind that encompasses an entire watershed ecosystem.

Many endangered species call the Connecticut Watershed home, including the American Bald Eagle, Shortnose Sturgeon, Peregrine Falcon, Puritan Tiger Beetle, Dwarf Wedge, and Yellow Lamp Mussel. The watershed's tidal wetlands have been deemed "Wetlands of International Importance especially as waterfowl habitat" under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty named after the Iranian city where it was adopted in 1971. The Nature Conservancy named it one of their "Last Great Places" in 1993.

Watershed Priorities

  • Continue to promote the protection and/or creation of riparian buffer zones along the waterways within the watershed
  • Work to eliminate the combined sewage overflow problems in the Springfield and Holyoke areas along the river
  • Restore the river community by removing barriers to fish and eel passages within the tributaries to the Connecticut River
  • Reduce the negative effects of non-point source pollution, primarily stormwater runoff
  • Improve upon the limited amount of water quality data available within the watershed

Watershed Successes

Beautiful Connecticut River view
Levi Tiffany, an Eagle Scout candidate, cooperated with a local consultant who was working on a Lakes and Ponds Grant on installing a pipe in Rubber Thread Pond in Easthampton. The grant was given to improve water quality, to do a clean-up/public education, and storm drain stenciling project around the pond. The consultant provided Levi with outreach material to distribute at the cleanup. Levi's troop staffed an educational kiosk, complete with an enviroscape, and stenciled storm drains around the pond and put door hangers on people's houses to alert them to non-point source pollution issues.

The Atlantic Salmon Egg Rearing Program (ASERP) is a classroom activity where school children are provided with a few hundred salmon eggs that they hatch and rear until the fry are ready to be released into the wild. Trout Unlimited, MassWildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service work together on this project. While the fry are being reared, the students participate in a water runoff exercise - they see where the water from the school grounds goes and how it affects the habitat where they are releasing the fish. Many of the schools where the fish are raised border the brooks where they are released. The program is operated throughout the greater Connecticut River Watershed in about 29 schools and one senior center. More schools are trying to get involved in the program. Teachers are provided with a one-day training session each year prior to getting the eggs. The ASERP provides the kids with hands on opportunities to learn about the salmon life cycle and how our activities in the watershed can impact these fish.

US Fish and Wildlife Service pulling water chestnuts
The Massachusetts Environmental Trust awarded a grant to the Connecticut River Watershed Council, administered by the Hampshire Conservation District, for water chestnut removal. Heather Ruel, the volunteer coordinator, works with the Invasive Plant Coordinator from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. She works with folks in the area to first teach them how to identify the weed and then organizes pulling events. In this way, she has developed a local network of volunteers who are always looking for new, small infestations of the weed and eliminating it before it becomes a major problem. The information she has gathered will be entered into a GIS database for future reference.

Watershed Publications

Watershed Links

Connecticut River Watershed Council
Silvio O. Conte Fish and Wildlife Refuge


This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Water Policy