River’s Run Enriches Valley: FRWA preserves Farmington
Updated: Dec 1, 2021
This article first appeared as the cover story in the November edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication
By Bruce Deckert — Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief
The Farmington River — the classic waterway that lends its name to the Farmington Valley — is an iconic river by any measure. Granted, not a household name nationally like the Hudson, Mississippi or Rio Grande, but as vital to this fertile central Connecticut valley as any other American river is to its region.
A Simsbury-based nonprofit, the Farmington River Watershed Association, is dedicated to maintaining the vitality of the river and its interconnected natural resources. The FRWA aims to maintain a laser-focus on protecting and preserving this essential life-giving waterway.
A watershed is the land area that drains into a body of water. The Farmington River’s widespread watershed is comprised of 33 towns covering 600-plus square miles in Connecticut and Massachusetts. This watershed provides 100% of the drinking water for over 600,000 people in Greater Hartford and the Farmington Valley.
“Decisions are made in each town that affect the health of the watershed every day,” says the FRWA website.
Given the two neighboring states associated with the river, you might be wondering where the river’s source is located.
The answer is a confusing riddle: The source is in both Massachusetts and Connecticut. How can this conundrum be resolved? Simple — the river has two branches.
The source of the river’s West Branch is in the town of Becket in western Massachusetts — a stone’s throw from the Otis town line — and the source of the East Branch is at the northern tip of the Barkhamsted Reservoir in Hartland, Connecticut. The reservoir was formed via a dam system on the East Branch.
The two branches converge in New Hartford and run to the river’s mouth, where the Farmington joins the Connecticut River in Windsor, just northeast of Hartford.
The West Branch runs about 34.5 miles, per various sources, and the East Branch about 13 miles. After they merge, the river runs for about 46.5 miles.
The FRWA records the river’s length at 81 miles — the sum of the West Branch and the merged main river. When the East Branch is added, the Farmington covers an overall distance of 94 miles.
Further nomenclature issues arise because the river is divided into the Lower Farmington and the Upper Farmington — but the details of this demarcation can wait for another day and further research.
Some notable numbers, from the FRWA website:
• More than 75 miles of the Farmington have received the federal Wild & Scenic River designation.
• There are 400-plus dams in Connecticut’s Farmington River watershed.
• The river is home to 12 species of freshwater mussels and countless fish, and the watershed provides refuge and residence for an abundant and amazing diversity of wildlife.
And there’s this peculiar fact — while swimming is allowed, the river has no officially designated swimming areas.
The Farmington River’s relationship with the Farmington Valley region is complicated … yet nonetheless essential.
The Valley’s five core towns (in alphabetical order) are Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury — but the river doesn’t exactly follow the ABCs in its passage through our region.
Its fluid meandering journey through the Farmington Valley begins in Canton when the river briefly forms a de facto boundary between Canton and New Hartford before flowing southeast into the Collinsville section of Canton.
When the river flows out of Collinsville, it forms the de facto western boundary of Avon where the town meets Burlington — and continues flowing in a south and southeasterly direction into the Unionville section of Farmington.
The waterway travels southeast through Farmington until making an unusual left-hand turn north and then into the eastern part of Avon.
The river keeps flowing north through Avon into Simsbury — with the Metacomet Ridge and Talcott Mountain just to the east — and stays north and slightly northeast until making a hairpin right-hand turn near the Granby town line to head southeast.
Granby is the only Valley municipality the Farmington River doesn’t enter, but Salmon Brook is a key tributary and runs right through town. Of course, Granby is clearly in the river’s watershed.
“Decisions are made in each town that affect the health of the watershed every day” — FRWA website
After bending southeast, the river goes through the Tariffville section of Simsbury, also flowing southeast out of town — and then bends northeast before bending back southeast in a roller-coaster descent, including a brief hairpin bend northwest (believe it or not) before another hairpin bend southeast for its homestretch run.
If you’re keeping score at home, you’ve likely noted that the Farmington is one of those rare rivers that flows in all four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west.
Further, if all this bending makes you suspicious about whether the river suffers from a proverbial drinking bender, that would be understandable. But despite its apparent directionally challenged condition, the Farmington River ultimately reaches its destination — the Connecticut River.
Yes, the Farmington finally fulfills its role as a major tributary of our state’s namesake waterway.
Wow … and whew … is anyone else dizzy? A complicated river, indeed, but certainly worth the complications, and worthy of the collective care of the Farmington Valley community. The Farmington River Watershed Association seeks to cultivate such care. +
• Related Story: Exclusive Q&A — FRWA safeguards river's resources
• This article was first published as the cover story in the November 2021 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication — an exclusive interview with two key FRWA principals is on page 7.
• Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is an award-winning journalist
• Today Magazine covers the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley, recording the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns — Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury