Franklin County


Sawmill River Implementation Project: An Ecosystem Approach to Restoration

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Why this project?

The Franklin Conservation District (FCD) is working with the Town of Montague to improve the water quality and habitat of the Sawmill River.

FCD was awarded a s.319 grant by the MA Department of Environmental Protection (with funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) to address long-standing problems of the river. With these funds a portion of the Sawmill River will be restored to a more natural stream channel which will decrease bank erosion and the river's sediment load to improve water quality and wildlife and aquatic habitats.

Photo: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB)

The Sawmill flows through forested, steep terrain in its upper reaches and in the lower reaches through cropland, pasture, forest, residential and commercial areas. Over the past thirty years, towns in the Sawmill River watershed have been plagued by numerous problems associated with the river. Flooding from storms and seasonal high water flows have damaged farmland and private property. Sediment has accumulated beneath bridges, threatening bridge safety, and eroding stream banks imperil roads. Water quality, fisheries and wildlife habitat have been harmed by increased sediment loads and bank scouring.

Photo: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB)

For several decades communities have attempted to apply "quick fixes" to these problems. Stream bank stabilization and dredging projects were undertaken to repair catastrophic damage to roads, bridges and agricultural areas. While these emergency responses were necessary at the time, they did not provide long-term solutions. Each time one problem was fixed, other problems emerged.

Toward restoration

In 2005 a restoration plan was developed based upon a three-phase geomorphic assessment that was used to analyze health indicators of the river's ecosystem. A team of stream restoration consultants from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. and Field Geology Services used the data and findings to develop conceptual solutions for flooding, erosion and sedimentation using natural stream channel principles.

Now this team of consultants are working with FCD, the Town of Montague and state and federal agencies to finalize restoration plans for an approximately 1,700 foot reach of the Sawmill west of Route 63. The project site is on land owned by the MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife which recently signed a License Agreement with FCD to conduct the river restoration on the property.

Project site in yellow: Courtesy VHB

What will the restoration do?

The proposed design will allow the river to connect with its floodplain. A series of strategically placed rock cross vanes, log vanes and root wads will help direct some of the river's flow into existing side channels and away from eroding stream banks. These "bioengineered" methods will help create a more natural stream channel with the pool-riffle-run-glide structure that is beneficial for trout and other aquatic life. By directing some of the flow into side channels, less sediment will be carried in the main channel, thus improving water quality in the reach.

Proposed Concept Design

The restoration will also improve habitat for two state-listed Species of Concern, the Brook Snaketail Dragonfly (Ophiogomphus aspersus) and Longnose Sucker (Catostomus catostomus).

Brook Snaketail Dragonfly (Ophiogomphus aspersus) and Longnose Sucker (Catostomus catostomus)

What is happening now?

The team from VHB has submitted permit applications to local, state and federal agencies along with proposed final designs. These agencies will review the documents, conduct site visits and accept public comment. When all permits have been received, a construction contractor will be hired to do the work. Our goal is to have the restoration completed by late summer of 2012.

Will this project fix all the Sawmill's problems?

The short answer is, no. This project is a first step toward a longer term goal of doing more restoration of the Sawmill River. It will also be an important demonstration of the use of bioengineered methods, which while widely used in other parts of the Northeast, have had limited application in Massachusetts.

Where can I obtain more information?

For more information please contact Deborah Shriver, Franklin Conservation District Grant Administrator via email at: or phone 413-665-8142. Check back on this site for updates.

Update - August 28, 2012

The Franklin Conservation District has recently finalized a contract with SumCo Eco-Contracting, LLC of Salem, MA to do the Sawmill River restoration. The firm was among five which submitted bids for the project. Work is set to begin in the week after Labor Day and will last approximately one month.

We'll post photos as construction gets underway.



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