Blue Heron are among the many species that have returned to the Ten Mile River thanks to cleanup efforts.

The Ten Mile River, in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, on the Road to Recovery

Carol Berry
8/9/11

During the Industrial Revolution, the Ten Mile River, which flows through Attleboro, Massachusetts was heavily polluted and left for dead, with factory pipes discharging pollutants into its water and littering its banks with refuse.

But the river is rebounding, according to an article in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle. Rachel Calabro, a restoration planner with the environmental group Save The Bay, says that "The Clean Water Act, state and federal regulations and industrial pre-treatment of wastes have all made a big difference."

The Ten Mile River, which has a 50-square-mile watershed in southeastern Massachusetts and northeastern Rhode Island, originates in Plainville, Massachusetts and empties into the Seekonk and Providence rivers. It was once a plentiful source of fish for American Indian tribes that lived along its banks, but damming of the river and waste created by jewelry plating and other industries left the Ten Mile severely polluted.

Fish passage facilities are being constructed this summer at Turner Reservoir Dam, one of the impoundments that blocked American shad and other fish from their historical spawning grounds for 200 years, according to a release on the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management website.

On its website, the Ten Mile River Watershed Council says that "The river today is cleaner than it has been in decades, is now fishable, and portions north of Attleboro are now swimmable. Furthermore, wildlife—including otters and the Great Blue heron—have returned and are thriving.” The Sun Chronicle article says that both carp and trout are now regularly seen in the river.

While improved wastewater treatment plants and a reduction in industrial discharge have helped, the river still faces a challenge from runoff and such non-point source pollution as lawn fertilizers and road chemicals that make their way into the river, Calabro told the Sun Chronicle.

Untreated wastes and metals remain in sediments at the bottom of the river and are still toxic to aquatic animals, she said.

“The effects of industrialization are still visible in many parts of the watershed,” the Council's website says. “In 2010, a toxic algal bloom was identified on the Turner Reservoir (on Ten Mile River), which caused a ban on recreational activities for portions of August and September.”

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