Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

16 responses to “Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

  1. Those are very good questions> I’d like to know too. I am sure that dredging the river is a huge undertaking, but seemingly a worthwhile one that will save Westport in the long run.

  2. Michael Calise

    unfortunately dredging the river is at the bottom of the list in favor of more “popular” projects such as saving buildings or “beautifying” downtown or God forbid the beach. Without a viable river which is one of our most important assets all else is less valuable. Imagine a river filled with boats up to the center of town. As our river fills in some parts will be declared land and we will not be allowed to dredge it. It is my opinion that our number one project should be to dredge ASAP. All else can wait. I have advocated for this and others have actually “worked on it” but as far as I can see no meaningful progress has been made.

  3. The Army Corps of Engineers has the Saugatuck on an approved list for dredging. There is, however, no funding for the project.

  4. Michael Calise

    We had a million or more for the band shell and we “have” millions for the downtown and Compo. Its all about priorities

  5. Ernie Lorimer

    First remember we had a supermoon last week and abnormal tides and currents. Second, all of this is upriver of the Sauga bridge and the Bridge St bridge, so if you want river traffic like Norwalk they will need to. be opening.

    The dredging for Norwalk has been under way for some time, not for scenic sailboats but for gravel and oil barges.

    Last, I’m guessing that if we did have a foot of rain our problem would have been sewer diversion into the river and more flooding in the districts in town where we should only be building to Florida standards.

  6. Don Bergmann

    Some history here and I am surely missing much. The dredging of the river has been a potential project for a long time, with efforts made to the Army Corps many years ago. Our Town failed to follow up and the process had to get re-started. A few years ago Dewey Loselle, with my involvement reactivated the effort with Public Works and the Corps. The primary issue is money, either our Town and/or private sources. The history of all this is not one of which to be proud, but we need to move on. The matter has been part of the DSC and related efforts and should be. Dredging will not prevent downtown flooding. There are also some who do not see the effort as that important. My view\ is tidal estuaries need to be dredged from time to time and Westport needs to cause that to happen.

    Don Bergmann

  7. A few months ago, when Selectman Marpe outlined some high-ticket capital expenditures (Compo redo, Barron’s South, etc), he mentioned $2 million for river dredging. I have never seen where that dredging would take place..up-river, near the Levitt, where? On a side-note, $2 million for dredging is a “bargain,” and wouldn’t cover a very large area.

    My guess is that money is being allotted for the up-river portion of the Saugatuck. I mean, how can you redevelop both sides of the river and have no river to look at?

    Also, fyi, the Army Corps pulled their dredging project during the Clinton administration because Westport didn’t have any commercial marine traffic (past the blue bridge). Now we have ZERO commercial traffic, so forget that every happening with public funds.

  8. When was the last time the river was dredged?

  9. Talk of dredging while possibly necessary at this point skips right over the root cause of the siltation problem. Many property owners along the river believe that a clear view of the water is paramount to happiness and high property values. To that end yards are cleared to the water’s edge removing the riparian buffer such as various species of vegetation which have great holding power and traditionally have provided stability to the banks. Lawns, while providing visibility, just don’t replace what mother nature already had in place resulting in visible erosion and trees falling into the river as well. The big question is how can this flawed approach to property management be changed for the benefit of all people who love the river? A rhetorical question. Meanwhile, dredging will continue to be looked at as the only answer. It’s expensive!

  10. I’m also not a marine engineer, but as the Saugatuck river continues to silt in, one could argue that its flood carrying capacity is declining – which makes me wonder about the possible impact of same on the current Inundation Map for the downtown area. According to that map, most of downtown becomes submerged during a Cat 3 hurricane (don’t even ask about Cat 4). In a similar vein there is also the matter of the Sam Senior Dam – that towering edifice upstream that holds back miles of water; our current Disaster Mitigation Plan cheerfully notes that should the dam fail (terrorism, natural disaster, structural failure, etc.) everyone in the downtown area has 15 minutes before the wall of water and debris hits.

  11. There’s a hidden staircase near the library on the river bulkhead. It’s fun to run a small boat up and get ice cream. It’s a beautiful river.
    Dredging above Bridge Street wouldn’t do much for the homeowners along the river or anyone else. Most have figured out ways to have a boat and use it at or above mid-tide. The Bridge Street Bridge is more of a nuisance than the lack of water at low tide. Larger boats with higher structures probably still wouldn’t fit under at low tide so opening the bridge would be more important than having a dredged channel. If it was dredged it would be only a 100 foot wide channel (not the whole basin) and anywhere that is visible “land” at Mean Low Water can no longer be dredged. At low tide (if there was a channel) a boater would spend more than an hour going from the library to Compo (5mph speed limit in the channel). It would be a ridiculously expensive project without much gain for anyone–it would make getting ice cream or access to the library by boat a bit easier.
    The River fills in every winter especially where the channel turns west at the end of Stony Point. March and April low tides mean that each boat that runs through is doing its part to dredge the channel.
    I own one of the few river-dependent businesses and the only remaining active boatyard in Westport. Though I’ve only been on this river for 12 years, I’m relatively familiar with its ebb and flow.

    • For 30 years I have done an annual canoe trip downstream from Dorr’s Dam (points for being a local if you know what that is) as well as generally boated and swam around it and I haven’t seen the water depth change.during that time. It hasn’t “silted in” much anywhere from Compo to King’s Highway. The channel has a bit at the mouth, but not much and anyone who lives along the river will tell you their view hasn’t changed. At just about any low tide, the riverbed is exposed on most of the river. Obviously it isn’t a big deal if it just got noticed now. 😉

      As for dredging, not sure what it would do for the town. Not many boats use it, and those that do seem to work with the tide. It’s not like that town has done much to embrace the river, and structurally not much can be done now. A little riverbed showing at low tide would seem to not be a big priority. – Chris Woods

  12. Sandy Soennichsen

    Chris….are you from Weston initially? Staples class of 65?

  13. I wonder if are there photos somewhere of low tide so we can compare the clearance under the bridge? I seem to remember it much lower.

  14. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same
    comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Many thanks!