The Senate recently passed the most sweeping conservation legislation in a decade, protecting millions of acres of land and hundreds of miles of wild rivers across the country.
The 662-page bill, approved on Feb. 12 in a rare display of bipartisanship (92-8), includes the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Act. That measure, presented initially in the House by outgoing 3rd District Rep. Niki Tsongas in September, adds parts of the Nashua, Squannacook and Nissitissit rivers to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers System, a designation that would help preserve and protect the waterways and make them eligible for federal conservation funding.
A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, along with New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.
Congress failed to address the bill by the end of Tsongas’ term, but early in the current congressional session, Senate Bill 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, was brought up for consideration. It still contained the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Act, which was reintroduced by Warren and Markey in the Senate, and by Tsongas’ House successor, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan.
The measure also reportedly enjoys wide support in the House, which is expected to follow the Senate with a decisive yes vote after the mid-February recess.
And according to the Washington Post, White House officials have privately indicated President Trump will sign it into law.
The Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Act adds environmental protections to a 27-mile stretch of the Nashua River beginning in Lancaster to the New Hampshire border, a 16-mile segment of the Squannacook River from Townsend where it joins the Nashua, and 9.5 miles of the Nissitissit River from Brookline, N.H., to Pepperell.
Credit for the locally important part of this wide-ranging bill rightfully belongs not only to members of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire congressional delegations, but to grass roots activists that created the consensus and ground-up momentum for passage.
Since 2015, the Nashua River Wild and Scenic River Study Committee has worked to identify and promote the unique resource value these three rivers represent, and to develop a plan to ensure their pristine character endures for future generations.
This legislation wouldn’t have happened without the assistance of the 11 participating communities in this effort — Ayer, Bolton, Dunstable, Groton, Harvard, Lancaster, Pepperell, Shirley, Townsend, and Brookline and Hollis, N.H — which unanimously approved the “Nashua, Squannacook and Nissitissit Rivers Stewardship Plan” at their respective annual town meetings last spring.
That document recommended seeking federal designation of the rivers as “Wild and Scenic.”
Progressing to the point of even suggesting these federal protections wouldn’t have been possible without the groundbreaking work of the parent organization, the Groton-based Nashua River Watershed Association (NRWA), and its legendary founder, Marion Stoddart.
As Stoddart has rightfully observed, the Nashua has come a long way since the 1960s, when it was no more than a floating dump. Now 90, she’ll hopefully soon see the Nashua and its tributaries become a protected national environmental treasure.