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----- Waite's History (1953-1974) -----

| Pages 1-8 | Pages 9-16 |

THE WESTFIELD RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION

A brief summary of its organization and activities from 1953 thru 1974

by Richard A. Waite

....

"Laurel Week" in the Westfield Valley, sponsored for many years by the Westfield River Parkway Association, was an annual event growing out of the efforts of the late A.D. Robinson of Westfield to encourage the propagation of this shrub which contributes so much color each June to the Valley's natural environment. That "Laurel Week" in the Westfield Valley has more than local appeal is evidenced by the fact that, of the thousands who followed the tour in 1960, no fewer than 36 states of the U.S.A. were represented. "Phelon Hill" in Granville, property of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Phelon of that town and noted for its massive display of color often was the focal point of the tour. Occasional church services, conducted by Reverend Schultz, were a part of the tour.

Until his death in 1973 (?) the "Master Mind" of these annual events was Percy M. Elton, Superintendent of Springfield's Water Department "West Parish" facilities. It was he, often with too few helpers, who spent hours removing competing underbrush, opening vistas and in other ways assuring the fullest possible display of this esthetic resource. It was in recognition of his many contributions to the success of the annual "Laurel Tour" that the Westfield River Watershed Association erected a monument to his memory at the West Parish Filters in June of 1975.

Reference to the Annual White Water Canoe Race and consideration of its full sponsorship by the Association appeared in the minutes of a meeting of its directors in March of 1961, with consideration of liability involved in the case of accidents suffered by participants or spectators. Approval was given for limited participation in the 1961 event, this position taken on the advice of Attorney Andrew Anderson, member and former director of the Association.

A Scholarship Award, initiated in 1960 and open to all secondary school pupils residing in the Westfield River Valley, featured the Association's annual meeting of 1961. George S. Harley, Jr., a senior at Westfield High School, was recipient of the $250 award for his essay devoted to the conservation of the Valley's natural resources. Recognition of the Westfield River Valley's recreational potential and continuing efforts toward realizing these potential social and economic assets were strongly emphasized by the meeting's principal speaker - Meril A. May, Vice President of Dunn and Bradstreet of New York City and a property owner within the Valley.

The continuing use of the Westfield River as a convenient means for disposing of municipal sewage and industrial wastes - a common practice nation-wide - was brought into sharper focus by a hearing in Boston, Massachusetts September 11, 1961, sponsored by the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission and attended by the association's executive director. Possibly for the first time in history - at least in the Commonwealth - public testimony at this hearing suggested that the Commonwealth should provide some degree of financial assistance to municipalities to accelerate clean-up of the state's streams.

Proposed as a preliminary step to definite state-established pollution abatement criteria would be an official classification of the river's waters and objectives relative to degrees of clean-up; this classification to be established jointly by the state's Department of Public Health and Water Resources Commission.

On August 10th, 1962, "Ground Breaking" ceremonies for the Littleville Flood Control and Municipal Water Supply dam were held on the site in which officials of the Westfield River Watershed Association and Connecticut River Watershed Council participated. Thus ended controversies generated over the diversion of more water from the Westfield Valley to outside municipalities.

The Association's "Water Pollution Abatement" committee, under the chairmanship of Bertram B. Warren of Worthington, was especially active in late 1962, meeting with appropriate officials of those communities within the Valley faced with the probable necessity of constructing adequate sewage treatment plants: Chester, Huntington, Russell and Westfield. This committee's program was fully supported by officials from the state's Division of Sanitary Engineering and Water Resources. Mr. Warren's report on these meetings stated "... that his committee has awakened the towns to what is needed and to the fact that the state has certain time limits - that action will have to be taken - that the committee has brought these various groups together for their mutual benefit and now they must act".

In his report to the Association's Executive Committee February 20, 1962, Executive Director Waite stated: "We call to your attention ... the aggressive promotional programs being carried on by Industrial Development Commissions, regional agencies and commercial concerns to expand industrial and commercial activity in communities within and neighboring the Westfield Valley ... Success in these efforts will be accompanied by a higher density of population. To support such developments, there will be a search for more water and the Westfield River system is likely to be a first choice, not only for communities already drawing water from this valley but perhaps by others whose present supplies may prove inadequate. The Association should follow these developments closely in anticipation of a situation similar to the one it faced when the Springfield Water Department asked for and received water rights in the Littleville Dam". In less than a decade Southwick and West Springfield would be in dispute over well-drilling sites; Westfield would be drilling new wells; Russell would be expanding its storage resources. The City of Pittsfield, already drawing heavily upon the Westfield Valley's water resources, was developing plans to take water from the upper reaches of the river - in the Town of Windsor. While reduced natural precipitation of the early 1960s stimulated municipal search for new sources to meet growing demands would continue for more than a decade.

Proposed multiple-use flood control and municipal water supply projects under study in the Westfield Valley brought into increasingly sharp focus the conflicting interests between the public and private sectors of the regional community. The association's Board of Directors, at its meeting of February 19, 1965, recorded itself as "believing ... that land should be kept in private ownership whenever possible ..." Westfield's Mayor, Harold J. Martin, who reviewed with the Executive Committee the city's water supply problems, suggested a Metropolitan District Commission to serve the Valley as a whole.

The following appears in the minutes of the Director's meeting of January 13, 1966: "... the creation of a study committee was under the sponsorship of Springfield's Joint Civic agencies. Meetings have been going on since late summer, attended by Donald Weinle (Westfield), William Franks (West Springfield), "Bud" Foster (Blandford) and Waite (WRWA) at which these basic objectives were established: to expand ground and surface water supplies for the district of the Lower Pioneer Valley metropolitan area and provide for interchange of water among communities; to provide a "wholesale", not a "retail" service; to avoid costly competition among communities for water; to assure equitable representation by communities within the district ... A bill written also includes provisions for handling solid wastes on a district basis".

Facilities and methods for disposing of solid wastes and their effects upon the environment became an issue with the Association when the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Chester issued a temporary permit to a private individual to establish a disposal area to which would be trucked solid wastes from the Town of West Springfield. Following prompt action by many Chester citizens, the City of Springfield Water Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Westfield River Association, the permit was rescinded. This incident did bring to public attention the problem of disposing of the increasing per capita accumulation of solid waste material. Possible disposal methods explored by the Association included incineration, generation of electric power and shipment via the New York Central Railroad for filling abandoned strip mining operations to the west.

With the August-September (1966) issue of the Massachusetts "Commerce Digest" reporting an approximate twenty five million dollar investment in new and converted production and service facilities in the Greater Springfield area, association directors foresaw an increase in tourism, greater demands upon the region's water and recreational resources. These and other local developments posed questions as to their impact upon the land and related resources of the Westfield Valley.

Of major concern to residents of the central-western area of the Westfield Valley was whether or not there would be an exit from the then-under-construction Massachusetts Turnpike in the Blandford area. Despite appeals by many individuals and organizations - including the Westfield Association - for the interchange, it was not provided.

Another death in the original Westfield River Watershed Association's "Founding Fathers" occurred Sunday, November 12th, 1967, when Elmer R. Foster of Blandford, known by his many many friends as "Bud", died. His position as Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council from the date of its original incorporation made it possible for him to give sound advice to the Westfield Association from its original planning up to the time of his death.

Records of the Association's activities during the latter part of the 1960s emphasize the fact that, while it was an active participant in the preliminary stages of numerous resource projects, they were chiefly those on which definite action depended wholly upon the decisions made by federal, state and/or municipal agencies. "Pollution and Abatement" was almost universally desired; it was only after federal and state legislation provided substantial financial aid to municipalities for installing sewage collection and treatment facilities that there was positive action at any municipal level. Flood control, a viable issue following the disastrous floods of 1955, continues in the "talking" stage. Projects to expand water-related recreational resources, to improve the fish and wildlife habitat, to expand the energy potential of the main river during the normally low flows of the summer months remain at the "drawing board" stage.

A possible merger of the Connecticut River Watershed Council and the Westfield Association was proposed by the former group in late 1968, with the latter's Executive Director to serve as "Associate Director" of the combined associations. It was the eventual decision of the Westfield Association that it continue to operate as separate entity but cooperate with the Connecticut Association whenever there were issues of mutual interest.

From its organization in 1953, the Westfield Association's activities were centered upon the objectives of promoting conservation of the valley's natural resources - land, water, forests, scenic resources. "Conservation" was defined as "Wise Use", socially and economically. However, there began to develop in the late 1960s a somewhat different concept of "Conservation" - that of "preserving" or leaving undisturbed woodland areas, wet lands, natural stream flows, landscapes. This relatively recent concern for preservation of the natural environment will become increasingly obvious as it relates to projects in which the Westfield Association has an interest.

An indication of the growing popular interest in natural resource conservation was indicated by the bills submitted to the 1969 session of the Massachusetts Legislature, several of them filed by Western Massachusetts legislators. Among them were: Feasibility of Opening Secondary Water Supply Reservoirs for Recreation; Allow Fishing on Cobble Mountain Reservoir; Construction of Fish Ladders on the Westfield and Little Rivers; a bill reflecting the conflict over municipal water supplies for Southwick and West Springfield; no fewer than eighteen bills dealing with solid waste disposal; Revision of legislation dealing with Classified Forest Land Taxation; Advancement of funds by the Commonwealth of anticipated federal funds for developing outdoor recreational facilities.

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section below appears to repeat some things mentioned earlier,
possibly its a different draft covering the same time period


The below-average annual precipitation in the early 1960s, rising per capita consumption of municipal water, expanding industrial activity in the Greater Springfield area, population increases in suburban towns combined to stimulate exploration for new sources and distribution programs to satisfy demands. At the same time, the Lower Pioneer Valley Regional Planning Commission's study of the area's recreational needs projected a need for up to 2,000 surface acres of water.

It was also in this decade that the City of Pittsfield proposed diversion of water from the upper reaches of the Westfield River to meet its growing demands - a proposal that was opposed by WRWA. The City of Westfield and the towns of Southwick and West Springfield appeared to be in a competitive situation over rights to develop potential ground water resources in the "Great Brook" area. A proposal was advanced by then Mayor Harold Martin of Westfield to create a Metropolitan District Commission which would serve communities in the lower Westfield River Valley. Also proposed by the Springfield Joint Civic Agencies (of which Donald Weinle was chairman ???) was the formation of a Greater Springfield MDC which would include municipalities in the lower Westfield River Valley. Neither of these proposals became a reality.

Preliminary investigation into the feasibility of constructing a dam or series of dams in the Bradley Brook drainage area to provide municipal water and flood protection for the Village of Russell prompted consideration by WRWA directors of the extent of cooperation by private enterprise in this and similar projects. At its meeting of February 19, 1965, the Board of Directors adopted a policy that - "Believing in the principle that land should be kept in private ownership if possible, the Westfield River Watershed Association is in favor of the proposed Bradley Brook project with private enterprise participating".

In support of plans for developing the Westfield River's "West Branch" project, the Association's Executive Committee approved the Association's serving as a consultant for the project.

1965 saw completion of the Littleville Dam, with appropriate dedication ceremonies on October 5th, participated in by the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the Connecticut River Flood Control Commission and the Westfield River Watershed Association.

In his annual report, made in May of 1966, the association's executive director noted "a population of better than 300,000 depends on water from the Westfield River Valley for its essential and increasing luxury consumption. Economic growth can be stimulated or retarded by the volume and quality of water available. Control of pollution can create new sources for new uses; as of now, water in the main river is so polluted by municipal and industrial wastes that it is virtually useless. The facts of life are that there is not a sustained living environment for game fish and many species of wildlife. And the demand for recreational water greatly exceeds supply.

Governor Volpe's message to the Massachusetts Legislature under date of April 14, 1966 re provisions of proposed legislation to solve the state's pollution problems contained the following statement: "Nothing is to be gained by further delay in starting a job that must one day be undertaken. On the contrary, ever increasing construction costs indicate that delay will only increase the burden the Commonwealth and its cities and towns must shoulder".

The problem being created by the increasing volume of solid wastes and provisions for its disposal were brought into focus by a temporary permit issued by the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Chester to a private operator, allowing him to establish a "Dump" on Bromley Road in Chester. While the permit was promptly rescinded, the incident illustrated the problems of ways to dispose of wastes.

A severe loss to the Association occurred on November 12, 1967, with the unexpected death of Elmer ("Bud") Foster of Blandford. As Executive Director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council from the date of its incorporation, he was instrumental in the organization of the Westfield River Association and a guiding influence in its activities up to the time of his death. In recognition of his contributions, his widow - Mrs. Aleen Foster - was unanimously voted life membership in the Westfield River Watershed Association.

A set-back to hopes for viable programs to rid our rivers of pollutants occurred in early 1967 with the cutting back of federal funds to support clean-up programs. At the same time, growing resistance developed at the state level to projected water quality standards set by the Federal Water Pollution Control Commission.

A conflict of interest over classification of streams feeding municipal water supply reservoirs - in effect, no fishing or other recreational use - has long appealed to fishermen as untenable under present methods of water treatment - such as the City of Springfield's West Parish filter beds. The decision by the City of Springfield to allow fishing on the Littleville Reservoir and feeder streams - at least temporarily - met with wide-spread approval of fishermen.

| Pages 1-8 | Pages 9-16 |