Recently, I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Massachusetts Wetland Scientists (AMWS). The theme of the AMWS conference was The Massachusetts Rivers Protection Act – a 15-year Retrospective. For those unfamiliar with the Rivers Act, it was a groundbreaking law - one of the strongest in the nation - which established a 200-foot-wide riverfront resource area along both sides of all rivers and perennial streams in the Commonwealth, permitting development in those areas only if it met strict performance standards. What's powerful about this Act is that it's comprehensive, protecting rivers great and small - close to 10,000 miles of them - across the state.
What drove the Act’s passage was the realization that riparian areas (refering to the banks of a waterbody) perform many of the same ecological and other beneficial functions that wetlands do, and that maintaining good water quantity and flow in rivers and streams largely depends on keeping riparian areas naturally vegetated. As evidence continues to pile up on the degrading impact of roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces on water quality, water quantity and on fish and other riverine organisms, the passage of the Rivers Act back in 1996 and the protection it affords seems all the more prescient and warranted. Many consider the Rivers Protection Act to be one of the Commonwealth’s greatest legislative achievements in environmental protection.
At the AMWS meeting, former Environmental Secretary Bob Durand and DER’s longtime river steward, Russ Cohen, both of which played major roles in the drafting and passage of the Rivers Act, were honored with awards.
Since 1996, we’ve come a long way to not only protect our rivers but restore them too, reversing the downward trend of river health. While there’s still much to do to improve the quality and the natural hydrology of our rivers and streams, taking a moment to reflect on the significant achievement and success of the Rivers Act is worthwhile.
In celebration of the season and the beauty of our rivers we have set-up a photo collection profiling Massachusetts rivers in winter, take a look.