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News Fearing Brook, Amherst Update - Exciting Times

DER worked with consultants to advance the three top projects to concept plan level.
  • Division of Ecological Restoration
Highly incised channel of Fearing Brook

There is no denying Fearing Brook’s pedigree as an urban stream. Perusing the earliest available topographic maps, from the late 1800’s, shows the brook already manipulated, buried and straightened. Concerned about the condition of Fearing Brook, the town of Amherst applied to DER for Priority Project status. DER granted provisional status for this project and is working with the town to identify ways to revitalize their overlooked downtown stream. While it is unrealistic to aim for a complete restoration of Fearing Brook to reflect its pre-Colonial condition, DER worked with the town to identify priorities for the community and a path forward. Initial steps included review of past investigations by students at nearby Hampshire College and UMass Amherst and a town-commissioned study funded through MA Environmental Trust. This foundation work was followed by an overarching assessment of the stream to identify major stressors and potential restoration projects. The focus was to identify actions with the real potential to improve water quality, stream stability and riverine function. The field assessment coupled with previous investigations provided the information needed to develop a list of recommended river enhancement projects, which the town of Amherst then ranked.

DER was able to work with consultants to advance the three top projects to concept plan level. Two projects are located at nearly the first visible upstream section of Fearing Brook - near College Street and downtown Amherst. The stream is mostly buried above this section, running through stormwater pipes before daylighting into a deep channel scoured by years of stormwater flows. To help mediate the situation two complementary concepts were developed. One project will work to capture and infiltrate stormwater runoff from a large parking area and buildings to the west of the brook. The second, more challenging, project will work to rectify the deeply incised channel shown in the image above. The concept developed includes reworking the channel to raise the stream bottom and creating a lower flow channel, stabilize the banks using bioengineering methods and create a modest terrace below the top of bank that will function as a floodplain. Both of these projects will help improve water quality and stream stability.

The third concept design is at the other end of Fearing Brook as it enters Fort River and also involves floodplain. In this stretch of river Fearing Brook flows through a confined channel bookended by high earthen banks. The proposed design would eliminate the berm on one side of the stream to allow Fearing Brook to reconnect with its historic floodplain. The project was carefully designed to avoid increasing the height of flood waters while maximizing water quality benefits. DER will continue to work with the Town of Amherst to refine the concepts, engage the community and eventually implement the projects. There is great potential for Fearing Brook to become a rediscovered asset for the town and a classroom for students of the nearby colleges interested in restoration practice.

Photo: Highly incised channel of Fearing Brook off College Street, photo by Horsley Witten Group.

Division of Ecological Restoration 

DER restores and protects rivers, wetlands, and watersheds in Massachusetts for the benefit of people and the environment.