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After Setbacks Conservationists Work To Protect A ‘Fragile Resource’

A “fragile resource” running quietly through town needs protection, especially after past oil spills and a fish poisoning in 2013 diminished its health.

At the end of Old Farm Road below the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard is a section of Deep Brook, designated as Deep Brook Open Space — a strip of land bordering the section of stream that “tries to protect” the waterway said Conservation Commission Chair Ann Astarita.

“We need to take care of natural resources that we have. It’s an essential resource to preserve the brook and its water quality,” she said.

The open space extends from the south behind ball fields at Reed Intermediate School, north and east through the intersection of Old Farm Road through fields bordered by state land, the town of Newtown, end through to Commerce Road where the Pootatuck River joins it.

Deep Brook is only one of nine areas designated as a Class I wild trout area in the state. “They’re not common,” she said. Essentially, it means the water is cold and clear and good for trout.

“But unfortunately, poisoning killed almost all the fish last year,” Ms Astarita said. Drainage from stormwater pipes far behind and below Reed Intermediate School and downhill from Old Farm Road killed fish 400 yards downstream.

In July 2013 local residents notified members of the Candlewood Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited (CVTU) that there were dead fish along the brook. According to a CVTU release, CVTU members contacted the state and a subsequent investigation of the area by state fisheries personnel concluded that a toxic substance had emerged from the stormwater discharge pipes serving the Fairfield Hills complex.

This substance killed all but four small fish for a quarter mile downstream. Based upon prior years’ trends, this section’s population would be expected to exceed 100 trout.

“It’s devastating that we have four where we once had [more than 100], a real environmental hit,” Ms Astarita said. “I hope people will take care of the resource and if they see something, report it so nothing like this happens again.”

Fish populations have not yet recovered from the July 2013 fish poisoning, according to a 2014 fish survey by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the second since the fish poisoning. The July survey found only 36 trout in the affected section. State fisheries experts believe that these trout have moved in from areas unaffected by the 2013 poisoning. “We are still working to find out what happened there and how to protect Deep Brook in the future,” Ms Astarita said.

Odors or the appearance of substances in the water could be something toxic, could be a health issue, she said. She urges residents who notice something amiss to call the Land Use Agency at 203-270-4276, or Newtown Hook & Ladder at 203-270-4383. “The reason they knew of the fish kill last year was dog walkers noticed the dead fish and dogs were getting the fish,” which could also be dangerous for the dogs, Ms Astarita said.

She also notes that Deep Brook is the end point for virtually all stormwater from the Fairfield Hills campus. “Anything that goes into storm drains goes into our streams and brooks,” she said.

Trout Unlimited Reacts

CVTU President Steve Zakur said in a recent e-mail, “What we’ve seen since last year is the movement of some adult fish back into the section that experienced the fish kill.” A normal occurrence, he said, “Some fish come from downstream and upstream to take advantage of the habitat that is fish-free.”

He said, “As long as the poisonous substance is no longer present the population may recover.” Unfortunately, he said data shows that the 2012 population, the one killed by the poisonous substance, has the most “large” adult trout ever counted, he said. “Basically, the poisoning killed off the healthiest fish population ever measured in the stream.”

Deep Brook is not stocked with raised trout.

Mr Zakur said it has not been stocked in more than a decade. “That’s why this fishery is so important. The water quality is so good that there is abundant bug life for the fish to feed on and good spawning habitat for the next generation to be laid.”

The fish kill in 2013 “is particularly troubling,” he said, because “we seem incapable of stopping the assaults on this resource. We have been entrusted with this rare thing and yet several times in the past decade we’ve spilled toxins into the waterway.”

Mr Zakur said, “It’s time we act differently. We need to change our behaviors, think about what goes down the drain, and we have to be more stringent about the enforcement of regulations that protect water resources.”

Learn About Deep Brook

Helping provide information on the Deep Brook Open Space is a recently improved kiosk. The CTVU chapter offered to pay to fix an old kiosk, Ms Astarita said. The kiosk site is near a small bridge crossing Deep Brook below the horse guard.

According to a recent release, the Town of Newtown Conservation Commission would like to thank the Candlewood Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited (CVTU) for its generous donation of materials and time to improve the commission’s educational kiosk at the Deep Brook Open Space. The Conservation Commission’s mission includes educating the public on the importance of conserving the town’s natural resources, including essential water resources, wetlands, and the wildlife so dependent on them.

CVTU’s generous contribution of time and materials will help educate residents, students, and other visitors of the Deep Brook Open Space for years to come

2013 Fish Poisoning

According to a CVTU release, Deep Brook is one of nine streams in Connecticut to have the DEEP’s Class 1 Wild Trout Management Area designation. This designation indicates that there is a self-sustaining wild trout population present in the river. No fish stocking occurs on these waters and they are subject to special catch-and-release angling regulations. This designation is reserved for streams with the highest water quality.

Since 1998 (excepting 1999), the state has surveyed Deep Brook to determine the health of the fish population. Those results, despite two oils spills in 2003 and 2004, illustrated that the wild trout population in Deep Brook was growing even though brook trout populations were declining and brown trout populations were increasing. In 2012, the recorded trout population included the highest number of large, adult trout since record keeping began. Those trout were killed in the July 2013 toxic release.

CVTU, its volunteers and partners have spent the past decade working with federal, state, and local agencies to improve water quality and trout habitat in Deep Brook. The chapter has raised more than $250,000 from grants and individual contributions and has contributed thousands of hours of volunteer time through its members and partner organizations.

“Deep Brook has been the central element of our conservation mission for over a decade” said Mr Zakur. “When we first heard about the fish kill and its potential affects on the stream it was incredibly disheartening. These new numbers, while encouraging, tell us that this resource has a long way to go on its journey to recovery.”

The Candlewood Valley chapter has completed several projects in partnership with the Town of Newtown. These include stream bank restorations and tree plantings on Deep Brook and the Pootatuck River. The goal is to stabilize banks, reduce sedimentation, provide shade, and buffer the stream banks. Most recently, the “daylighting” of a portion of the brook previously channeled through culverts was completed near Dickinson Park. All these efforts provide better habitat for wildlife, including macroinvertebrates, fish, and mammals that depend on cold, clean water.

“Water quality in the brook is important for trout, but it’s not just about the fish and angling opportunities,” said Joe Hovious, conservation chair for CVTU, “water quality is important to the people who rely upon Newtown’s water supply.”

Results from recent water sampling and surveys have been mixed due the impact of the oil spills and other stressors.

“Due to last year’s poisoning, trout populations are essentially reset back to where they were in 1998,” said Mr Zakur. “While we hope that the improved habitat will allow wildlife to rebound quickly, the impact of continued development along the banks of the brook creates a significant risk for wildlife and the people who rely upon its waters.”

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