The North Branch Park River watershed is a moderate size of
~28 square miles. The majority of the watershed (>68%) is within Bloomfield, while 14% of the watershed overlaps into northern West Hartford. The northwestern neighborhoods of Hartford, Blue Hills, Asylum Hill and the West End are within 11% of the North Branch Park River watershed. The remaining 3% of the watershed land area is within Windsor, Avon and Simsbury.
Mt Video Pond is located near the Metacomet Ridge.
The land uses within the watershed trend from highly urbanized at its confluence with the South Branch Park River to undeveloped in portions of its headwater regions. The lower portion of the river disappears completely within a several-mile long flood control conduit before it ultimately discharges to the Connecticut River. It is therefore unseen and often forgotten by many residents of the City of Hartford. The North Branch Park River is more prevalent and part of the landscape in its upper reaches where considerable amounts of open space and undeveloped land protect the river. In its middle reaches, there are encroachments of urban development interspersed with undeveloped or lightly developed areas adjacent to the river. Flood control reservoirs in the central and upper reaches of the watershed provide some measure of flood protection and open space. Flooding is common along the lower portions of the river due to a combination of development within the floodplain and higher amounts of impervious cover in the urban areas of Hartford.
The Park River is formed by the confluence of its north and south branches. These rivers have helped shape the culture and character of Hartford and its suburbs. Landmarks such as Bushnell Park, Pope Park and the Mark Twain House were constructed to capitalize on their proximity to the river. Many institutions currently front the aboveground portion of the North Branch Park River in Hartford including the University of Hartford, the UConn Law School, the Village of Family & Children Services and the Watkinson School. Despite the significant development within the watershed and its impaired water quality, the North Branch Park River is still considered an asset to these institutions due to its landscape function on their campuses. Other groups have also recognized its value in terms of landscape presence and have modified the land adjacent to the river to enhance its visibility and its aesthetic appeal, an example being the recently redeveloped Goodwin Estates residences.
The North Branch Park River watershed encompasses a sizeable portion of Hartford’s urban core and includes many of the sociological and economic challenges that face urban areas. Water quality of urban streams is typically one of many challenges facing urban areas. The North Branch Park River, however, also has the potential to serve as a tremendous asset and a focal point for urban/suburban community collaboration. It can be perceived as a natural feature that could help define the character of the urban/suburban nexus. Cities across the United States are beginning to rediscover their connections to rivers and waterways. The reconnection of Hartford to the Connecticut River is a prime local example of the benefits that can be reaped from re-connecting people with the river. The North Branch Park River still retains valuable natural areas along its banks as it flows from its headwaters into Hartford. The linear nature of rivers provides a tangible link and the potential for communities to collaborate on revitalization efforts. The potential exists for a regional vision to be developed where the upper watershed communities can offer substantial water quality and habitat protection benefits while the urban areas can provide the urban river experience with the river forming a physical and emotional connection to the community.
The river, in addition, has the challenge of an aging sanitary sewer infrastructure that combines stormwater runoff with sanitary sewage (combined sewer overflows or CSOs and sanitary sewer overflows or SSOs), resulting in frequent water quality impairments of the river. A long-term program to address these issues is being developed by the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) in cooperation with the CTDEP. The MDC has developed preliminary plans to address the issues of combined sewer overflows (CSO) with the potential to significantly improve the quality of the lower portions of the North Branch Park River. This is an enormous and expensive infrastructure project and opportunities may exist to enhance the physical quality of the river as part of the proposed infrastructure improvements.
The CTDEP is seeking to clearly define these technical and political challenges facing the North Branch Park River and to develop a comprehensive management plan for the watershed that addresses the full suite of challenges it faces. The watershed management plan will identify measures that can be taken to improve the health of the river, including physical on-the-ground improvements, infrastructure improvements including green infrastructure and sustainable design, improved land use decision-making with a shift to the concept of low impact development, river restoration, land or land rights acquisition to further protect the river and allow public access to increase the profile of the river, and public outreach and education programs.