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Ausable River Watershed Management Plan

Over a period of five years, many people in the Ausable watershed and beyond came together through a variety of workshops and conversations. Their goal was to protect and restore the health and resiliency of the Ausable River as a vital resource for the region by creating a framework for action and good management. These conversations led to the Ausable River Watershed Management Plan (the Plan): a snapshot of ecological and community challenges in the Ausable River watershed and a vision for planning with a broad understanding of community interests and needs.

The Ausable River is one of 14 major rivers that have their sources in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, and the longest of the three that drain into Lake Champlain. Its watershed covers 512 square miles and includes 94 miles of river channel, fed by more than 70 streams. Seven towns, eight hamlets, and one incorporated village lie within the watershed, which covers portions of two counties. The watershed contains many ecologically rich environments with vibrant human histories. Home to over 20,000 people, it is largely rural in character with its population concentrated in small hamlets that hug the river. Upstream, the Ausable's two branches flow through protected forest lands that are part of the New York State Forest Preserve, but protections diminish heading downstream. For over 200 years, people have relied on the river as an economic resource, even as they have valued its wild beauty and recreational value.

While water quality in the Ausable and its tributaries remains good enough to support the human and aquatic populations that rely on it, it is stressed by many factors. Water quality tests show increasing levels of chloride from winter road deicing, phosphorus from septic system discharges, and other pollutants. Miles of river channel are incised with deeply eroded banks, leading to increased sediment pollution, which can smother delicate aquatic ecosystems and damage transportation infrastructure. Rivers move sediment—different sizes at different flows—but, once impaired, they cannot. Heavy rain events along the Ausable can quickly overwhelm roadways, bridges and culverts, leading to flooding, and the existing infrastructure—bridges, culverts, and reinforced riverbanks—often exacerbates these problems by trapping sediment the river can no longer move.

Cataloging and understanding these challenges to the river's ecological health and its ability to maintain itself and support healthy human communities are key goals of this watershed management plan. The plan provides a comprehensive view of the Ausable River and its watershed. It is written for a broad audience and covers a variety of topics, including geologic and cultural history; demographics, land use, and maintenance of infrastructure; current measures of water quality and measures of stream condition; municipal regulatory frameworks; and more—in an effort to protect the river and its watershed effectively and efficiently while enjoying its exceptional resources. The report proposes priorities and projects that will help to restore and sustain a healthy river ecosystem so that it can continue to nourish vibrant human communities.

Development and implementation of this plan was made possible through an Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program grant from the NYS Department of State. The Ausable River Association, a 501c3 non-profit watershed organization based in Wilmington, NY, served as grant and project manager.

Read the full plan here.

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