NAUGATUCK RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION
Naugatuck River History
A sub basin of the Housatonic River Watershed, the Naugatuck River is the largest river in the state that begins and ends within the states boundary lines. The river encompasses 39 miles of river from its beginnings in Norfolk down to its confluence with the Housatonic River in Derby, CT. The Naugatuck River runs through, New Haven and Litchfield counties and travels through a total of 12 towns.
The Naugatuck River has a long history of industry that used its waters for many processes from washing to power generation during the last century. Before the industrial revolution the river was an important part of local American Indian culture for it fed the masses. Because of the industrial revolution much of its banks were bought up by early industrialists and the river was dammed in many places. From the river valley many infamous products were born; the process of vulcanized rubber was developed in Naugatuck by Goodyear, Naugahide the furnishing upholstery came out of Naugatuck, metal clock parts were first developed in Thomaston and the booming brass factory made Waterbury. Without the river and the railroad, that allowed for shipment and receiving of products and raw materials, the river valley may have looked like any other pristine untouched area.
Today the Naugatuck River is still rich in its industrial background, but it has begun to change back into a pristine area. With the Department of Environmental Protection, local chapters of Trout Unlimited, the Naugatuck River Watershed Association and advocacy by the greater community for the revitalization of this nautral resource, progress has been made in the rivers restoration. DEP's initiative to restore the river for anadromous fish, that had previously been blocked from upstream passage by the numerous dams, began with the plans to remove all dams from Seymour up to the Thomaston Dam. Today only two dams remain along this stretch of river Tingue in Seymour, which is slated for removal in the near future with a price tag of approximately 3 million dollars and the Plume and Atwood Dam in Thomaston.
Along with removal of the dams, the poor water quality was addressed by upgrading all waste water treatment facilities, the largest in Waterbury, and going after large industries that were still using the river for a dumping grounds for their left over wastes. Today the river has rebounded, fish are plentiful and once happy visitors, like Bald Eagles, osprey and herons are returning to fish along its banks.
We hope that you enjoy this website and that it helps to introduce you to a river that you may drive by everyday. If you have any questions or would like to report a concern that you have observed on the Naugatuck River please contact the NRWA., Inc.
Brief History of the Restoration of The Naugatuck
River and Its Tributaries
Prepared by Bob Gregorski
The Naugatuck River is a medium sized river Located in western Connecticut. The main stem of the river originates at the confluence of its east and west branches in the City of Torrington. At this point it has a drainage area of approximately 48 square miles. In Derby, 39 miles downstream it flows into the Housatonic River Estuary. At its mouth in Derby, the Naugatuck River is a fourth order river with drainage-area of approximately 310 square miles.
The basin is contained entirely within Connecticut, primarily in the Towns of Torrington, Litchfield, Harwinton, Thomaston, Watertown, Waterbury, Naugatuck, Beacon Falls, Seymour, Ansonia, and Derby. The difference in elevation from its origin in Torrington to the mouth in Derby is approximately 540 feet, resulting in a relatively steep gradient of about 13 feet per mile. Consequently, it is a rapidly flowing stream for most of its length, consisting primarily of riffles and pools. Exceptions are several relatively short reaches, which have been deepened by dredging activities or are impounded behind low dams. Average annual stream flow at the mouth of the river is approximately 560 cubic feet per second (cfs). Dry weather minimum flows are on the order of 80 cfs.
Land use in the basin consists of a mixture of urban and residential areas and forest and agricultural zones. In general the upper half of the basin is rural with the exception of the small cities of Torrington and Thomaston. The Naugatuck basin downstream from Thomaston is heavily urbanized with the exception of a two-mile section between Naugatuck and Beacon Fails where the river flows through a scenic valley bounded on both sides by the steep, forested hills of the Naugatuck State Forest.
The main population centers of the Naugatuck River Basin are the cities of Waterbury, Naugatuck, Torrington and Ansonia. Due to the steep gradient of the main stem and the many short, steep tributaries, runoff from precipitation is rapid and the river is prone to floods. The record flood occurred in 1955 resulting in significant loss of life and property valued on the order of $220 million.
The river is influenced by the rise and fall of the tide for a distance approximately one mile upstream of the mouth, which is 12 miles from Long Island Sound. The first upstream barrier to migratory fish is the Kinneytown Dam at Seymour; it is located approximately five miles upstream from the mouth.
History Part I 1700-1966 Brief overview:
A report by the state Sewage Commission dated 1899 stated that the Naugatuck River had reached the limit of permissible pollution due to the discharge of industrial wastes and municipal sewage. A subsequent report by the state Board of Health in 1915 described the river as badly polluted throughout its length and listed six municipal and 29 industrial waste sources on the river. This grossly polluted condition was essentially unchanged into the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the years following the 1955 flood, the US Army Corps of Engineers undertook extensive flood control projects in the basin. A large flood control dam was constructed on the main stem of the river at Thomaston and six additional flood control dams were constructed on tributaries for a total capacity of 77,000 acre feet. Five local flood control projects were also constructed, resulting in extensive steam channel modifications in tile cities of Torrington, Waterbury, Ansonia and Derby.
Because of its steep gradient, the Naugatuck River was well suited for waterpower and it was developed for this use very early in the history of Connecticut. Industrialization of its valley and use of the river as a receiving stream for municipal sewage, and a wide variety of industrial wastes followed. In 1845, the largest brass mill in the United States was built in the City of Waterbury and by the early 1900s the Naugatuck Valley was one of the principal brass manufacturing regions of the world, a distinction, which remained through the 1960s.
Large quantities of industrial wastes from the brass mills and related metalworking industries, as well as wastes generated by the manufacturing of rubber, synthetic chemicals and textiles, were discharged to the river along with municipal sewage. A report by the state Sewage Commission dated 1899 stated that the Naugatuck River had reached the limit of permissible pollution due to the discharge of industrial wastes and municipal sewage. A subsequent report by the state Board of Health in 1915 described the river as badly polluted throughout its length and listed six municipal and 29 industrial waste sources on the river. This grossly polluted condition was essentially unchanged into the late 1960s and early 1970s,
History Part II 1967-1997
The Connecticut Clean Water Act of 1967 (PA 57) and the federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 established the legal authority that was needed to begin to reverse the process of water quality degradation. Legal action, in combination with state and federal grants to municipalities totaling approximately $20 million, resulted in the installation of secondary level waste treatment at all eight municipal sewage treatment plants that discharged to the Naugatuck River. These plants were all operational by 1976. Similar levels of waste treatment efficiency were required of industrial dischargers based on the best technology available at the time. Between 1973 and 1976 the newly formed state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued discharge permits to 35 major industrial and 42 minor industrial discharges to the Naugatuck River.
Section 10l (a)(2) of the federal Clean Water Act states that wherever attainable water quality goals must provide for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife and provide for recreation in and on the water. This condition is popularly described as “fishable/swim able” and is the minimum goal for all Connecticut waters including the Naugatuck.
The installation of technology based pollution controls on municipal
and industrial discharges, combined with the general decline of the major
brass mills in the region, was followed by a dramatic improvement in water
quality throughout the basin by the mid 1970s. Except for a few localized
problems, a considerable degree of aesthetic quality was restored to the
water throughout the length of the river by the mid 1970.
The DEP has recognized the potential of the Naugatuck River to support a valuable recreational fishery pending elimination of existing water quality constraints. Of all the fish species targeted for management throughout the basin, Atlantic salmon and trout, especially those in early life stages, are the most sensitive with respect to water quality
In 1986 the DEP adopted a Water Quality Based Permitting Strategy, which resulted in further reductions of toxic substances in surface water discharges. This strategy led to an aggressive permitting program, which employs biological toxicity testing methods to determine acceptable permit limits and monitor compliance.
There were 57 permitted wastewater discharges to the Naugatuck River. Of the 57 discharges, eight are from municipal sewage treatment plants. Approximately 49 are industrial discharges, 28 of which are treated process wastes. The remainder is non-contact cooling waters. Of the 28 treated process wastewater discharges, nine required the use of toxicity testing methods for development.
In 1988 the DEP issued an organic waste load allocation for the Naugatuck River. This milestone expanded the completion of a long-term effort to determine the level of waste treatment that would be required of the eight municipal sewage treatment plants that discharge to the river. It was determined that in order to meet water quality standards, advanced treatment would be needed by five municipalities; Torrington, Thomaston, Watertown Fire District, Waterbury and Naugatuck. This work is expected to be completed in the late 1990s at a total cost of approximately $87 million.
Some incremental water quality improvements have been noted in the Naugatuck River. Statistical analysis of data from chemical/physical monitoring conducted in the lower river since 1974 indicates significant reductions in levels of total organic carbon, phosphorus, and turbidity, which are all components of municipal sewage. Reduction in levels of the industrial pollutants iron and zinc were also noted. In 1991 fish and invertebrate sampling indicated that the lower river downstream from Waterbury supports populations of aquatic life including tolerant invertebrates and forage fish. This represents an improvement over similar sampling that showed almost a total absence of life as recently as 1984.
Remaining water quality impairment from wastewaters is due primarily
to excessive levels of copper and ammonia, especially in the downstream
portion of the river. In addition to the remaking impacts from point source
pollution, poor land use practices and the steep nature of the topography
result in frequent erosion and sedimentation problems. Although existing
conditions do not represent full achievement of water quality
In 1991, the lower river downstream from Waterbury supported populations of aquatic life including tolerant invertebrates and forage fish. This represents an improvement over similar sampling that showed almost a total absence of life as recently as 1984.
Water quality is better now than historical records indicate for the turn of the century. By the year 2000, valley residents can look forward to a river that has been restored from extreme pollution levels.
Part III 1998- 2007 (January)
A fish ladder has been in place at the Kinneytown Dam in Seymour since 1999. When it is operation, usually May through September, about 25 species of fish have been using it to migrate up and down the river. They include: The American shad, striped bass, white sucker, gizzard shad, sea-run brown trout, sea-run tiger trout, brown trout, brook trout, tiger trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, ?common carp, Atlantic salmon surplus broodstock, blueback herring, alewife, sea lamprey, American eel, common carp, largemouth bass, sunfish, channel catfish and walleye. A detailed list of have used it can be found on the Trout Unlimited website www.tunaugpomp.org under Fishladder presented on the HOME PAGE.
Fish migrating upriver cannot ascend over the Tinque Dam in Seymour, which is about one mile upriver from the fishladder. The plan for a by-pass is over the dam has been a work in progress for several years.
In 1999, dams in Waterbury (Anaconda, Freight Street and Platt’s Mill and the Union City Dam in Naugatuck were removed or breached and thermal refuges and spawning habitat was improved on Sled Haul and Fulling Mill Rivers. Six other similar projects were in the planning stages.
The Waterbury Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) was completed in 2000 at a cost of$124 million.
In 2004, the Chase Brass Dam in Watertown was removed. A fish by-pass
and kayak recreational run around the Tinque Dam in Seymour was in the
The results of the work done by volunteer conservationist are evident in the significant increase in flora and fauna and the reduction of unsightly visual pollutants (debris).
In regard to water quality, “Greatest improvements have been seen with regard to aesthetics, clarity, ammonia levels, dissolved oxygen levels and chemical constituents.”
During the summer of 2000, more than 300 boulders were installed within a 4,000-foot stretch of the river in downtown Torrington to help restore fisheries.
During 2006, 24 boulder-cluster (4-6 large boulders) were placed in
In January 2007, Riverbend Park in Beacon Falls and the Tinque Dam By-pass were in the planning stages. Completion of Riverbend Park is planned by December, 2007. Construction of Tinque Dam By-pass may begin in 2009.
The following is a brief history of what has happened since 1884. One
source of the information used is from The CLEAN WATER FACT SHEET -Naugatuck
River Fact Sheet - August 1992 published by the CONNECTICUT Department
of Environmental Protection Bureau of Water Management.
For additional information, contact: