Coginchaug River
Drainage Basin: Connecticut

1. About this Watershed

Waterfall at Middlefield, CT on the Coginchaug River

The river is comprised of a watershed of approximately 39 square miles flowing through pastures, forests, farmland, industrial and commercial areas. Coginchaug is the primary tributary of the Mattabessett River, meeting it in Middletown, Connecticut after it flows north from Guilford through Durham and then Middlefield. It is noteworthy that this river is one of very few to flow north in the area.
Beginning at Myer Huber pond in Guilford, the Coginchaug river flows through approximately three miles of relatively heavy swap lands. The river continues through relatively calm water until it encounters six damns and a major water fall in Wadsworth falls.
Located in Middlesex County, Connecticut, the river originates in a town with a population of 22, 372 persons. However, by the time the river converges with the Matabassett River (which forms the boarder between Middletown and Cromwell, CT) the human population has doubled to 47,783 persons. Not only has the population increased at this meeting point, but the amount of potential pollutants has also increased. This can be seen most directly by the fact that Matabassett and Coginchaug converge at the North End Peninsula aptly known as Landfill Summit. Once a dumping ground for the town of Middletown, the landfill was decommissioned in the 1990’s by the Connecticut DEP. Technically speaking this convergence occurs at Longitude: 72.66205100000001 W Latitude 41.571751 N in the USGS Quadrangle of Middletown and Durham Though some sources list the river as a portion of the Matabassett watershed, other sources will list it as a basin nestled between the Sawmill Brook Basin and the Allyn Brook Basin.

The Coginchaug River, in 2006, was named as one of 85 rivers of lower quality which is safe for recreational activities like canoeing and kayaking but not for swimming. This determination was made due to high levels of bacteria like E. Coli and a limit to the consumption of fish due to high levels of mercury.
Because of E Coli (a very common bacteria) the Coginchaug River has been listed as an “Impared Waterway” by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2002. “Efforts are currently under way by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a subsidiary of the Department of Agriculture, to recommend practices to reduce the bacteria introduced into the river from untreated sewage, sanitary overflow, agricultural runoff, leaking septic tanks, etc. [1]

1a. Map of Watershed

2. Geology

3. Hydrology

One station exists on the 26 miles of the Coginchaug in order to measure the depth and discharge of the river. USGS Station 11902883 located In Middlefield measures the river twice daily at 12am and 12pm in order to monitor for floods. Also known as COG3 at the location of latitude 41°31'12", longitude 72° 42'23, the USGS uses the station to alert state and local emergency managers of potential flooding dangers. Using readings from this gage and other information, the EPA, in a Final Flood Elevation Study, determined that at its confluence with the Matabassett River had the potential to be +23 in the City of Middletown. To see a daily update of this information, please click here.
En route to this station, the Coginchaug has several tributaries including Belcher Brook (this includes Hatchery Brook and Crooked Brook) and Sawmill Brook in Middletown. Reservoirs intended for public water supplies also affect the river, the largest being Shuttle Meadow Reservoir in New Britain, which is approximately 200 acres in size. The highest of these reservoirs is Wasel Reservoir in Southington, at an elevation of 512 feet above sea level. Others are Adder, Merimere, Kenmere, Hallmere, Mount Higby and Laurel Brook reservoirs, and Harts Ponds.
A Connecticut DEP study of runoff potential determined that in its drainage basin, 42.9 percent or 10,539.90 acres of the Coginchaug River had a “Negligible, Very Low, Low” runoff potential. On the other side of the spectrum, 13.2 percent or 3,249.32 of 24,591.83 total acres had the highest potential for runoff in this basin. These findings demonstrate that the majority of the river runs through low runoff potential, with greater run off potential on its north end near where it meets the Matabassett. This northern end of the river is also where Cromwell Meadow located and where the water level changes according to Altantic Ocean tides.

4. History

The Coginchaug, named for the Indian phrase “long swamp” or “thick swamp” was originally a land area located within what is now New Haven County. This area was used primarily as a hunting ground by the Mattabessett Indians who signed this area over in 1699 to petitioners of the General Court of Connecticut to create what is now the town of Durham. Traces of this tribe can also be seen in Coginchaug Cave, along the Mattabesett Trail, which rises 30 feet high and stretches more than 50 feet along the base of a cliff. It is said to have provided shelter to Native Americans long ago and children can be found looking for artifacts during warm months as the trail is not too challenging. These Indians sold the rights to these caves and the hunting grounds below in 1672 to English settlers such as Mr. Samual Wyllis and Mr. James Richard. Although these settlers valued the signature of the natives, Governor Andros was quoted as saying, “the signature of an Indian was no better than that of a bear’s claw.” [2] The Town plat was then laid by members of the general assembly in Hartford in 1703.
In the following century the Coginchaug was harnessed for industrial purposes. In 1813 Commissary-General Chandler Irvine along with Simeon North made an early attempt at standardized arms and interchangeable small parts for army pistols which specified the need for interchangeable parts. North had begun his manufacturing career in 1799 with a small factory located on the Spruce Brook River in Berlin, Connecticut. To accommodate a growing business, North acquired a water permit on the Coginchaug and build a three story factory measuring 86 by 36 feet. Two other businessmen, Robert Johnson and Nathan Starr owned factories within a few miles of North's factory. North had chosen the location based on the power that could be generated by the river. In his Berlin factory, about fifty workers within in who combined with the water power could generate about 0.04 horsepower. This left much of the metal forging to be done by hand. However, in the factory located on the Coginchaug about fifty workers were in place by 1816 generating an output of about 1.9 horsepower per man. This reduced labor and increased the output of M1819 rifles which were produced at the factory.[3]
By the twentieth century, the Coginchaug River was no longer used for manufacturing purposes but did meet other needs. An example of this was a fire in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ashely Quinlan on Guilford Road in during the night of December 21, 1955. Having run out of water in their trucks, firefighters used the river to douse the flames. [4] The 1960's saw the river in the news for other reasons. Though not typically a source of contention, the Coginchaug was the center of much debate between the city of Middletown, Ct and citizens of towns located upstream during a severe drought in 1963. Dikes had been considered in 1954 as the Coginchaug had a tendency to overflow onto nearby pastures and meadow lands, some of which had been zoned industrial. However, in 1963 the problem was quite the opposite as Middletown now had to consider the river a source of drinking water due to a water shortage. To avoid underground wells, the city had proposed a pumping station and filter plant to pump water from the Coginchaug into Laurel Brook Reservoir at a cost of $800,000 dollars. Mount Higby Reservoir, the other main source of water for Middletown, had dropped below 25 feet in the summer of 1963 but a consensus could not be reached. During the debate five commissioners quit Middletown's water panel and local environmental enthusiasts such as Middlefield's Mid-Lea Garden Club created much public outcry over the plan. In the end, a compromise was reached and pumps were placed in Miller's Bridge in Middlefield for emergency purposes only. [5]

5. Human Use & Impact

As with other bodies of water, the Coginchaug is affected by human uses. Several bridges cross the river including an abandoned steel bridge, the Connecticut Route 72 Bridge and the old stone Connecticut Route 72 Bridge, which are located one right after another.
While bridges and other structures are important, industry has had the largest impact on the Coginchaug. One long standing industrial structure is the Rogers Manufacturing Company located at 72 Main Street, in Middlefield. Beginning in 1891 Rogers has manufactured bone knife handles and various polyethylene products at its location. These bone knife handles were dyed using chemicals such as anthraquine, sodium alkyl sulfate and azo dyes. When finished with the dyes the company disposes into an on-site cess pool and an on-site drywell. Rogers then drums and removes the dyes from the property every few years.
In 1983, CT DEP and Environmental Science Corporation collected samples of the dye bath. In these samples Benzene, phenol, and several metals were detected in the dye bath samples. Outside of chemicals, Rogers has been granted a permit to dump non-contact cooling water to the Coginchaug River. Surface water also drains into the Coginchaug from the property, flowing in the Mattabasset and the Connecticut Rivers in addition to the Coginchaug. All three rivers are considered fisheries though none are utilized downstream of Rogers for drinking water. Though this water does not affect human intake,ater protected by the Clean Water Act has been impacted. Having analyzed a sample of the non-contact water in 1990, Connecticut DEP personnel determined that chemicals such as calcium, cobalt, copper and zinc were present and were impacting CWA-protected water bodies and fisheries.
In 2008 the Connecticut Coastal Conservation District in the Coginchaug River Watershed conducted a survey to address recommendations in a recently completed watershed-based plan. The goals of this survey were: to locate areas contributing to bacteria loading in the Coginchaug and to build public awareness of water quality issues and human impacts on rivers. A total of fifteen cites were chosen near major tributaries near their confluence the Coginchaug to determine whether, and to what extent, these tributaries were contributing to bacteria documented in the main stream. Using twelve volunteers from the local community, samples were collected four times on a bi-weekly schedule from July through September. The air and water temperature were also measured and observations were also made water level, color and odor at each site. Samples were measured for E. Coli at the State Public Health Library, all in compliance procedures outlined by the DEP and EPA.

6. Flora (Plants)

At its roots in Guilford, several tree species can be seen growing along the banks of the river including White Ash and White Oak. American Elm and American Beech trees are sighted as the river flows north into Durham. In Middletown, various versions of fir tree can be seen among the elm and beech trees.
Commonly known as American Water Lotus, Nelumbo lutea has been determined to be a potentially invasive water plant, though it does look pretty as its yellow flowers float on the surface of Meyer Huber pond. As the river flows north, common reed can be seen in areas of Middletown.

7. Fauna (Animals)

The upper Coginchaug is an area which has been createdover time by the overflow of the Coginchaug and Mattabesett Rivers, and is a habitat for several state-listed plant and animal species, including the state endangered American Bittern, and the state-threatened Blue-Winged Teal and the Northern Leopard Frog. The area provides important habitat for numerous beetle species including the Fungus Weevil and the Soldier Beetle. Fish such as the Longnose Dace and the Creek Chub make their home in the water while birds such as migrating wood ducks, black ducks, teal, and nesting wood ducks make their homes in nests above. American shad, blueback herring, alewives, and other fish also migrate from the ocean to spawn in the rivers. In addition, several rare plant species occur in the area.

8. Lesson Plans & Field Studies

For a brief and understandable lesson on Connecticut's Geology, click here.

9. Personal Stories

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10. Community Groups

Though it is a rather small river, the Coginchaug has several fans. Such groups include the Coginchaug River Greenway Committee. This is a Volunteer steering committee seeking to implement recommendations of "Coginchaug River Watershed management Plan."
The Jonah Center for Earth and Art.htm is another community group which is dedicated to the Coginchaug and along with annual kayaking gatherings, it holds an annual clean up along the river banks.

11. Recreation

Along with parks such as Wadsworth Falls in Middlefield and Palmer Field in Middletown, activities such as fly fishing and paddling also take place along the Coginchaug. At one time the river was considered to be one of the best trout streams in Connecticut but the water quality has suffered some. However, the DEP does stock the stream with browns, rainbows, and brookies.
Though some road noise emanates from numerous four-lane divided highways that ring Middletown, the Cromwell Meadows Wildlife Management Area still represents an extraordinary paddling resource, all the more so because of its metropolitan location. Huge numbers of nesting and migrating waterfowl congregate here, and nowhere else in Connecticut can so much wild rice be seen.

12. Related Links

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13. Notes/Sources

1. Griffin, Keith (April 25, 2007). "Monitoring the Coginchaug River for a better future". Middlesex County Advertising Supplement (The Hartford Courant): p. 9.

2.Fowler, William Chauncy. The History of Durham, Connecticut from the First Land Grant in 1662 to 1866. Press of Wiley, Waterman, and Eaton. Hartford, Connecticut.

3. Gordon, Robert B.
Simeon North, John Hall, and Mechanized Manufacturing . Technology and Culture. Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1989), pp. 179-188

4. Hartford Currant, December 23, 1955.

5. Middletown Press. July 1963.