North Branch Park River Watershed Planning and Green Infrastructure Design

Park River watershed

The North Branch Park River is an urban river that flows through portions of Hartford, West Hartford, and Bloomfield, Connecticut, with an approximately 29-square-mile watershed.

The water quality of the North Branch Park River has been impacted by urbanization within the Hartford area, limiting recreational uses due to elevated levels of fecal indicator bacteria. It provides insufficient habitat for fish, other aquatic life, and wildlife due to physical alteration of the aboveground and buried portions of the river. Urban stormwater and combined sewer overflows (discharges of untreated wastewater directly to the river during larger storms when the combined storm and sanitary sewers become overwhelmed by stormwater runoff) are among the major sources of the bacterial contamination in the North Branch Park River.

Fuss & O’Neill has a long history of working with area stakeholders to address the water quality and related challenges in the North Branch Park River watershed.

park river view

2010 Watershed Management Plan

In 2010, Fuss & O’Neill partnered with Park Watershed and the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) to develop the North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan. The watershed planning process included mapping and documentation of watershed characteristics, review and summary of water quality monitoring data, significant field assessments (stream walks, wetlands assessments, and green infrastructure assessments), pollutant load modeling, and extensive community outreach and engagement.

The watershed plan provided a framework for subsequent implementation efforts, including policy recommendations and site-specific watershed restoration projects, and served as a model for other EPA Nine Elements Watershed Based Plans in Connecticut.

Green infrastructure drainage with plants

Watershed Plan Implementation Projects

Following adoption of the 2010 Watershed Management Plan, Fuss & O’Neill continued its partnership with Park Watershed and other stakeholders, including the North Central Conservation District, UConn
Law School, The Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, The Metropolitan District (MDC), the City of Hartford, the Town of Bloomfield, the University of Hartford, and others to support the design and implementation of green infrastructure and similar restoration projects that were identified in the 2010 Plan.

Fuss & O’Neill provided engineering design services for the bioretention basins that were subsequently constructed at the UConn Law School and The Hartford International University for Religion and Peace parking lots, as well as design services for a restoration project to address gully erosion at the outfalls from the parking lots.

Park River watershed, flowers next to river

MDC Water Quality Investigations

In 2018, MDC retained Fuss & O’Neill to conduct a multi-year water quality monitoring study along the North Branch Park River to assess the relative contribution of combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharge and other sources of fecal indicator bacteria loads to the river.

The monitoring program consisted of wet and dry weather sampling at fixed locations throughout the watershed, including in-stream sampling and sampling of CSOs and stormwater outfalls. Mass loadings of bacteria and other pollutants were estimated from measured pollutant concentrations and flows at each location. Event-based and annual bacteria loads were used to estimate relative contributions of bacteria to the North Branch Park River from upstream sources, stormwater runoff, and CSOs.

Fuss & O’Neill’s water quality expertise, extensive knowledge of the North Branch Park River watershed, and significant local staff resources were key factors in designing and implementing a successful water quality monitoring program.

Park River watershed

2024 Watershed Plan Update and Green Infrastructure Design – Focus on Nature-based Solutions

Even considering the accomplishments of the 2010 North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan, the project team recognized the need for an updated watershed management plan to characterize current conditions and issues in the watershed and more effectively address the water quality and related challenges (flooding, extreme heat, riparian habitat loss, climate change, etc.) facing the North Branch Park River and its tributaries.

Fuss & O’Neill worked with the North Central Conservation District to secure a Long Island Sound Futures Fund grant to update the 2010 North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan and advance designs for site-specific green infrastructure projects in the watershed.

A consultant team of Fuss & O’Neill, Park Watershed, and Trust for Public Land led the 2024 watershed plan update and green infrastructure design process, working with a diverse group of project partners (MDC, watershed municipalities, CTDEEP, and other organizations) and an advisory committee selected to further reflect the interests and goals of the local community.

Mapping of watershed conditions, desktop screening, field inventories, interviews with property owners, and an ongoing public engagement process informed the selection of green infrastructure concepts, preliminary designs, and permit-level designs for projects focused on the North Branch Park River subwatershed.

The design process resulted in an updated vision and on-the-ground projects for revitalization of the river. Strategies and projects included riparian and floodplain restoration, land conservation, green stormwater infrastructure, and improved ecological and recreational connectivity.

The updated watershed plan and green infrastructure designs will provide a roadmap and a project pipeline for future restoration efforts in this urban watershed.

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