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State backs water habitat protection efforts with grants

  • UMass Professor David Boutt, center, works with research students documenting water samples. Contributed Photo

  • A UMass student researcher collects water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • A UMass student researcher collects water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • A UMass student researcher analyses water samples. Contributed Photo—

  • Dave Perkins, of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service holds a jar with an eastern lampmussel at the Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home Monday, August 15.

  • Large mouth bass in a tank at the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Fish and Aquatic Resources Home in Sunderland, to be used as host fish for freshwater muscles.



For the Gazette
Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Four projects in Hampshire and Franklin counties are among 15 statewide to receive grants designed to help waterways and habitats in the region.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s $94,375 in funding is the largest of the roughly half-million awarded by the state on Tuesday. Grants were given through the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, a funding stream from environmentally-theme license plate sales.

Other grants include $38,600 to Trout Unlimited Inc. of Chester and Worthington; $40,500 to the Connecticut River Watershed Council in Greenfield; and $40,000 to the American Turtle Observatory Inc., a national organization that observes turtle species in New Salem.

Researchers at UMass will study water samples in order to understand impacts of drought and document its movement.

“By measuring the isotopic composition we can start to describe the source of that moisture — did it come, ultimately, from the Arctic? Or the Gulf of Mexico?” asked David Boutt, associate professor of geoscience. Isotopic composition is what the water is made of.

“When water evaporates off a lake it goes from liquid water to gas. The light isotopes leave. The heavy ones stay behind,” Boutt said. “Over time, a lake or reservoir will have heavier and heavier water. Our study is trying to track the different masses from the sky, into the ground, and then back.”

Most of the grant money will pay for salaries to build a database of analyzed samples, create detailed maps and put the findings online for anyone to access. Then, training workshops will be held.

The data is important locally when drought hits, and more broadly in relation to global warming. Boutt cited a separate report that found arctic water is moving elsewhere.

“As the arctic is warming more and more of that moisture is moving to New England,” Boutt added. “With this database we can start to track this and understand how the hydrological cycle is changing the source of moisture to the region.”

Boutt is looking for samples from wells and streams across the region. Anyone interested in contributing can call 413-545-2724, or email dboutt@geo.umass.edu.

Meantime, Trout Unlimited’s funding will be used to “remove two impassable in-stream barriers and reopen access to over 30 miles of interconnected coldwater habitat on Kinne Brook, a tributary to the Middle Branch of the Westfield River,” according to the press statement.

In Franklin County, the Connecticut River Conservancy Council will use its funding to help reintroduce endangered brook floater mussels into wild freshwater. The mussels are now being raised at the former Richard Cronin National Salmon Station in Greenfield, which was repurposed a year ago as a research and educational facility.

“This is a collaboration we’re exceedingly pleased to be a part of,” said Andrew Fisk, executive director of the council.

In its second of three years, the project is a joint venture with UMass Amherst, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Money will be used to “support science with use of volunteers,” paying the salary of a full-time scientist to organize efforts, Fisk said.

“One of the things we do is give citizens and volunteers meaningful opportunities to make their rivers and waterways better,” Fisk said.

To that end, “citizen scientists” document “where remnant populations of the mussels exist. Then find other locations that match, where there aren’t brook floaters, but could be,” Fisk said.

The American Turtle Observatory Inc., which observes turtle species in New Salem, will use its money to evaluate the effects of habitat and wetland change on four long-lived, freshwater turtle species of concern. According to its website, the observatory maintains a large network of sites along the Connecticut River Valley. Included are five eastern box turtle populations and three spotted turtle populations.

“The American Turtle Observatory of New Salem is a strong partner in identifying and conserving landscapes that support freshwater turtles in the North Quabbin Region and beyond,” said state Rep. Susannah Whipps, R-Athol.