Efforts to confer a wild and scenic designation to the Farmington River from Canton to the Connecticut River got a boost on Wednesday when a bill on energy policy with an amendment proposing the designation was passed by the U.S. Senate.
A spokewoman for U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said on Wednesday that the Senate approved the bill with the amendment that morning. The amendment, which includes other land designation proposals, was added to the bill on Tuesday.
"I am encouraged because we now have the Farmington River as part of a larger land designation package that will eventually be passed," Murphy said. "It's not a question of if Congress will act on that package, it's a question of when, and I am confident when this moves forward the Farmington River will be part of that."
In addition to the lower portion of the Farmington River, the wild and scenic designation would cover Salmon Brook in Granby.
The designation promotes preservation efforts, possibly funding locally initiated cleanup and conservation projects and boosting tourism on the river. It would prohibit the construction of new dams, Murphy said.
The Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic River Act could make that part of the river eligible for as much as $100,000 in government funding for preservation efforts, said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who worked with Murphy on the amendment.
"Today's historic step brings us significantly closer to preserving and protecting the Farmington River, one of our state's most precious wild and scenic treasures, with both economic and environmental benefits," Blumenthal said on Tuesday about the vote on the amendment.
A 14-mile section of the upper Farmington River, from the West Branch Reservoir to where the river meets Cherry Brook in Canton, was designated wild and scenic in 1994. The amendment passed on Tuesday would cover the rest of the Farmington River in Connecticut.
While Murphy has tried to get the wild and scenic designation through the Senate, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose 5th District covers much of the river's path, has been doing the same in the House. On Tuesday, she and U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, applauded the action in the Senate.
"The Lower Farmington River is an economic and environmental treasure for families across Connecticut, and today's action in the Senate brought us one step closer to preserving it for future generations," Esty said in a statement. "Families from across Connecticut and around the world travel to the Farmington River to enjoy the fishing, boating, and other recreational opportunities it offers. The House should follow the Senate's lead and pass this bill, so that Connecticut can continue to take advantage of one of the country's greatest waterways for many years to come."
According to Esty, she and Larson tried to bring the designation to a vote in the House in February as an amendment to the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act but were blocked by the rules committee. Esty said she will continue trying to get the wild and scenic designation for the river included in any energy legislation that comes before the House this year.