A Brief History of the NSRWA
The Early Years
In 1969, Jean Foley, a Scituate resident and avid birder, was exploring the land adjacent to the salt marshes along the town’s Driftway. It troubled her that two types of sparrows she was accustomed to seeing no longer appeared there. Foley noted that the ecology of the recently- developed Driftway and its marshes had changed significantly over the past few years, and wondered if such a change might explain the disappearance of the birds.
Concerned, Jean Foley contacted the town hall to report what she had seen. When the town failed to investigate the matter further, Foley took action. Wondering if she herself might be able to do something to solve what she thought might be a more serious problem than missing birds, Foley sounded the alarm, and sought out the help of other environmentally-minded citizens. These included, among others, water resource specialists, employees of state environmental agencies, a wildlife biologist, members of local conservation commissions, and an attorney—all residents of watershed towns.
The following spring, Jean and her husband Jack hosted the first organizational meeting of the group that would become the North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSRWA).
NSRWA becomes incorporated
On July 13, 1970, The North and South Rivers Watershed Association, Inc. was established as a private, non-profit corporation by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. William Finn of Marshfield was elected the group’s President. Other members of the original Board of Directors included Elizabeth Burbank, Richard Burbank, Robert Cauchon, Katherine Cranton, Priscilla Green, Faith King, John Lanier, Carl Pipes, W.A. Schlosser, Paul Vogel, and Lawrence Whalen. Group meeting were held in private homes until a gathering space was established at Marshfield’s First Baptist Church.
Later that year, on October 27, the NSRWA held its first public meeting. A mailing list was created, and it was not long before the group was publishing its own four-page newsletter. A membership appeal attracted the support of over 400 individuals, businesses and families.
One of the foremost concerns of the original group was the effects of development on the rivers and their contiguous wetlands. Early NSRWA activities included presenting a slide show entitled “Threats to the River” to civic and local interest groups, acting as a watchdog over local development issues, and creating a landuse map of the entire watershed. Also of concern were the effects of wastes contributed to the watershed from factories upstream, and inland filling of tributaries, which threatened water quality.
NSRWA acquires office space
In the spring of 1974, the NSRWA obtained its own office space on Main Street (Route 3A) in Marshfield. Shortly thereafter, the River Preservation Project was launched, the objective of which was to obtain long-range protection for the North and South Rivers through state and federal legislation, conservation restrictions, and citizen action. Jean Foley led the effort, devoting long hours to securing a Protective Order for the North River under the state Scenic Rivers Act of 1971 (state authorities deemed the South River unsuitable for such protection). This was achieved in 1978, and the North River Commission was formed, with the authority to regulate such actions as development and vegetative cutting within a 300 foot corridor of the river’s natural banks.
Also, in 1977, both the North and South Rivers were recognized as National Natural Landmarks by the Department of the Interior, “possessing national significance in illustrating the natural character of the United States.”
By then, things were looking up for the North and South Rivers, and for the environmental climate of the South Shore in general. The Federal Clean Water Act of 1977 had outlawed the filling of wetlands. The North River Commission was in place to regulate further development on the river’s shores. And area towns now had both Conservation Commissions and Master Plans to oversee developmental issues. Content that, for the meantime, their status as a watchdog group could be retired, the NSRWA began a dormant period.
While the group never officially disbanded—board meetings, and activities such as canoe trips and house tours were held regularly—the NSRWA assumed a less active position.
The Second Wind
By 1985, however, the environmental climate on the South Shore was beginning to heat up. In particular, issues regarding the Town of Scituate’s wastewater treatment facility could not be ignored. On June 30, an Annual Meeting at the home of Peirce and Kay Fuller, a number of new board members were elected and the NSRWA received its second wind.
In the late 1980’s the NSRWA brought suit against the Scituate Wastewater Treatment Plant forcing the town into a consent decree, which addressed operational problems, and today the plant regularly emits clean effluent into the river. In the 1990s, NSRWA continued to address non-point pollution problems through innovative storm drain systems and creating monitoring programs which continue today.
In addition to these success stories the NSRWA has served as a leader in bringing people together to protect and understand the local environment. In 1998 NSRWA created the South River Initiative. The Initiative produced a South River recreation guide, a watershed middle school curriculum, an open space map and a study of the tidal impacts on the river. This collaborative effort was well received and has been replicated in Scituate under the name First Herring Brook Watershed initiative, a similar group concentrating on issues relating to Scituate’s water supply. The NSRWA has also served as a hub in sharing information between town regulatory boards. Through a Massachusetts Bays Program (MPB) Grant, the NSRWA brought together officials from Boards of Health, Planning Boards and Conservation Commissions from Scituate, Hanover, Marshfield, Norwell, Duxbury and Pembroke to share concerns and solutions.
The NSRWA is represented on the Route 3 task force, is a member of the Vision 2020 task force, and was instrumental in passing the sewer extension at Marshfield Town Meeting after 10 years of frustration. The NSRWA through monthly articles in the most widely read local south shore newspaper, the Mariner, set the stage for passage of the Community Preservation Act in Hingham, Cohasset, Duxbury, Scituate, Marshfield and Norwell.
The NSRWA has grown to over 1,600 members today. The membership comes primarily from the 12 towns within the watershed, Norwell, Hingham, Scituate, Marshfield, Hanover, Pembroke, Whitman, Hanson, Duxbury, Weymouth, Rockland and Abington.