Weweantic River

 

 

Weweantic, or Weweantit as they originally named it, means the Crooked River in the language of the first people of this region the Wampanoag's. The river begins in the town of Carver where South Meadow Brook and Rocky Meadow Brook conjoin and ends at the confluence with the Wareham River in Buzzards Bay. The Weweantic is about 15 miles in length and has a watershed of roughly 55,000 acres.

The upper reaches of the Weweantic meander through marshes, bogs and red maple swamps. The tannin rich waters received from this wide network of wetlands gives the Weweantic water its deep amber hue. This part of the river has supported extensive cranberry cultivation for the past 200 years. Several small dams along the upper river are in use to maintain small ponds for cranberry irrigation. Others appear to be out of use with no boards in their spill gates. Due perhaps to the upper rivers gentle gradient and slow flow there doesn’t appear to have been much industrial development along its course. As the river makes its way down into Wareham and under Rt. 28 its character begins to change.

The river widens here into the impoundment created by the Tremont Dam. Below this dam the Weweantic begins its final two-mile rush toward the bitter waters of Buzzards Bay. Along this stretch the Weweantic tumbles down a steep gradient through largely undeveloped and unspoiled woodlands of pines and hardwoods. Long stretches of cobble and boulder strewn riffles make this a popular spot for springtime canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Below here the river widens into the impoundment created by the Horseshoe Pond Dam. This dam is considered the beginning of the Weweantic’s estuary and the end of Buzzards Bay’s tidal influence. However, upon casual observation the dam is at a point below the historic tidal influence of Buzzards Bay. Below this dam Buzzards Bay begins mixing with the sweet waters of the Weweantic. As do the multitudes of estuarine inhabitants and anadromous fishes that thrive where the salt water mixes freely and naturally with the fresh.

The estuary of the Weweantic supports a very diverse population of aquatic species. This diversity drew the attention of several college students in the late 1960's and early 1970's. These students did important research here toward their master’s thesis on Rainbow Smelt, Tom Cod, Winter Flounder, Tautog and Cunner. More recently, the Coalition for Buzzards Bay and the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program have been monitoring the estuary to pinpoint and address some problems here. These problems include high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture, failing septic systems, golf courses, home fertilizer runoff and the influx of the waters from the Wareham River, which is heavily burdened by the sewerage treatment plant. The over loading of these elements causes the water to become cloudy and discolored due to increased levels of algae. The inability of sunlight to penetrate the waters and the algae growth upon the plants creates havoc with the plants that live on the river bottom. When they disappear so do the creatures that inhabit them and it's beneficial byproduct oxygen. Decreased levels of dissolved oxygen may also stress or kill many of the inhabitants of the river or cause unpleasant odors. The decline of the Scallop fishery in Wareham may be a direct result of this. From time to time high bacteria levels lead to the closing of beaches and shellfish beds. This is often a direct result of failed septic systems but can also occur because of increased numbers of waterfowl and water temperature. Despite these problems the estuary still provides many recreational opportunities and remains a wonderful and diverse ecosystem that draws many people to its shores.

The Weweantic Stream Team has stepped forward to become the voice of the Weweantic. By working collectively with land groups, municipal and state agencies and other watershed groups we can identify and address problems that otherwise may go overlooked, unattended or just be too overwhelming to handle individually. Together we can also play an important role in determining the future of the Weweantic River. By exploring local history and lore we can draw a template of an unspoiled Weweantic.

Using this template drawn from the past we can begin to establish restoration and preservation priorities for the future. While establishing these priorities we must not overlook or reduce the importance of the history and lore of the past. People often say that we cannot go back in time and recapture the wildness that was once here. Looking at today’s landscape from the land perspective this is true. The shoreline of the Weweantic estuary for better or for worse is what it is and will remain so. However, when we look at the Weweantic from the inside out, from the water perspective we find opportunity calling. This call emanates from an amazingly diverse group of indigenous aquatic species, whose remnant populations persist here to this day. We can hear this call in the declining eel grass beds which cradle so much of the estuaries life. We can also hear it at the base of the Horseshoe Pond Dam. Here Tom Cod, Rainbow Smelt, Alewives, American Eels, Blueback Herring and Sea Lampreys beat their bodies against the concrete of this dam, struggling to reach their historic spawning grounds upstream.

Perhaps the best way we as people can serve the Weweantic is by listening to these calls. They carry a powerful message honed to perfection over thousands of years and through countless generations. To act upon what we hear will require the patience of the river and the persistence of its native species. If we can find these qualities within ourselves then the Weweantic's past can become its future.