Farmington River

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Coordinates: 41°52′02″N 72°57′16″W / 41.8671°N 72.9544°W / 41.8671; -72.9544

Farmington River and environs

The Farmington River is a 46.7-mile-long (75.2 km)[1] river located in northwest Connecticut, with major tributaries extending into southwest Massachusetts. Via its longest branch (the West Branch), the Farmington's length increases to 80.4 miles (129.4 km), making it the Connecticut River's longest tributary by a mere 2.3 miles (3.7 km) over the major river directly to its north, the Westfield River.[1] The Farmington River's watershed covers 609 square miles (1,580 km2). The river historically played an important role in small-scale manufacturing in towns alongside it, but it is now mainly used for recreation and drinking water. The Farmington River Watershed Association[2] is a non-profit organization for conservation and preservation of this river.

Its two main branches start in southwestern Massachusetts. The West Branch starts in Becket, Massachusetts and flows southeasterly to Otis, Massachusetts. A 14-mile (23 km) portion of the western branch has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River. The eastern branch is now mostly covered by the Barkhamsted Reservoir. The two branches join in New Hartford, Connecticut. The upper reaches of the river flow mostly southward, but the river turns northward in Farmington, Connecticut and then runs mostly north and east until it flows into the Connecticut River near the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut.


Tariffville Gorge Dam

There are several whitewater sections.[3][4] One of these, the so-called "Upper Farmington" section of the West Branch in New Boston, Massachusetts, is about 7 miles (11 km) long. It is Class 2 through farm and woods scenery to an iron bridge, where kayak and canoe slalom races are held. Below the bridge the river becomes Class 3-4, very technical at low water, and technical and pushy at higher water, with a short gorge with several abrupt drops. The biggest of these is about four feet at Decoration Rock. Below, the river continues fast and technical with many rocks and constant maneuvering required. The river is continuously rapid, leading through larger drops at Battering Ram rapid and Corkscrew. Eventually it flattens to Class 2 until a final, ledge rapid at Bear's Den, just above the reservoir. The Upper Farmington is barely runnable (very scratchy with many exposed rocks and pinning possibilities) during fall dam releases, and is a much better run at levels of about 600 cubic feet per second (16,990 l/s), or about 5 feet (1.5 m) on the internet gauge for that section.

Looking down the river to where the broken part of the dam lays

A second whitewater section is found in Tariffville, Connecticut, one mile (1.6 km) of technical Class 3 water which is runnable all year round. The river is normally paddled at levels between 1.5 and 2.75 feet (45–75 cm) on the internet gauge;[5] above 2.5 feet (75 cm) it becomes significantly heavier and more dangerous. This section includes the famous T-ville Hole, where kayakers can practice hole surfing and freestyle moves above a flat pool. Below the Hole is a broken dam, where the river funnels through an abrupt four foot drop into a large wave. This area is popular with swimmers in summer, and it is risky due to heavy currents and undercut rocks. There have been at least three fatal drownings in the Tariffville Gorge section, primarily people who were not properly prepared or trained for the heavy rapids and pinning obstacles in the gorge. Paddlers without helmets, lifejackets and Class 3 whitewater skills should end downriver trips at Tariffville Park, just above the start of the gorge.

Satans kingdom.jpg

Other whitewater areas include Satan's Kingdom in New Hartford, Connecticut, which is popular with tubers, and the Crystal Rapids section in Collinsville and Unionville, Connecticut, which is about four miles (6 km) of Class 1-3 training waters with a bicycle and pedestrian path on the right side of the river. Entrance to the park is free. A service will also pick tubers up and drop them off at certain points.

Dams and power generation[edit]

The Colebrook River Dam on the West Branch Farmington River impounding Colebrook River Reservoir in Colebrook, Connecticut. This dam is just above West Branch Reservoir, which backs up to the bottom of the dam in the picture.

The west branch of the river includes two hydroelectric dams in West Hartland and Colebrook, run by Connecticut's Metropolitan District Commission.

The largest dam on the east branch is the Saville Dam, which impounds the Barkhamsted Reservoir.

The Rainbow Dam, a 68-foot (21 m) dam with a hydroelectric generator and a fish ladder, dams the river at Windsor, a few miles before the river flows into the Connecticut River.

A number of other dams have been built on the river since European settlement, usually to power mills and other industry. A few, such as in Collinsville, are still mostly intact. The Collinsville Renewable Energy Promotion Act (H.R. 316;113th Congress) would instruct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would to turn over to the town of Canton, Connecticut two licenses so that the town could restart two small power dams along the river.[6] The bill passed the United States House of Representatives on February 12, 2013, but has not yet become law.

Water released from or flowing over the Otis Reservoir dam enters the Farmington River just North of Reservoir Road in Otis, Massachusetts. Significant quantities of water are released during the fall in order to drop the reservoir water level for the winter.


Crossings include the Drake Hill Road Bridge.


The Farmington River was one of the Massaco's chief fishing grounds

The Farmington River was the home of a Native American indigenous people called the Massaco, who inhabited the Simsbury and Canton area of Connecticut. One of the eighteen bands of the Wappinger, they lived and fished along the river, which later acquired the name "Farmington"[7]

The land of the Massaco was subsequently purchased by the Dutch. This and its settlement during the era of the Connecticut Colony are described at in the early history of Simsbury.

The Spoonville dam, built in the 19th century, just below the Tariffville Gorge in East Granby, was breached in the flood of 1955, and still remains as a partial dam in 2010, although there are discussions to remove the remaining portion of the dam.[8][9] The dam, as well as the bridge crossing the Farmington River downstream at Route 187, got its name from the silver plating factory erected in 1840 on the north bank of the river. It was the first factory of its kind in the United States.[10] In both October 2005 and May 2006, heavy rains deluged the Farmington River Valley and the Farmington rose to flood numerous forests and fields near the towns of Simsbury and East Granby. The river was so high in October 2005, that the river flowed over an old broken dam on the East Granby-Tariffville border. Spoonville Dam was removed in July 2012.

Natural resources[edit]

The Farmington River and its tributaries are known to contain 11 species of freshwater mussels.[11] The Farmington has the highest mussel species diversity of any tributary to the Connecticut, lacking only the Yellow lampmussel, which is found only in the mainstem of the Connecticut from Turners Falls, MA downriver to Windsor, CT.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 1, 2011
  2. ^ "Farmington River Watershed Association". Farmington River Watershed Association. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  3. ^ "Tariffville (Route 189) to Highway 187 (Tariffville Gorge) (Tville)". American Whitewater. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  4. ^ "Farmington, W. Branch, Massachusetts, US". American Whitewater. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  5. ^ "USGS Real-Time Water Data for Connecticut". USGS. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  6. ^ "H.R 316 - 113th Congress". United States Congress. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  7. ^ "New York Indian Tribes". Access Retrieved September 29, 2010. 
  8. ^ "Retrofitting for Fish" (PDF). Farmington River News. Winter 09-10. p. 4. Retrieved 22 September 2010.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ Buck, Rinker (August 3, 2009). "Giving A Dam About Fish". Hartford Courant. Retrieved 22 September 2010. 
  10. ^ Federal Writers' Project. Connecticut: A Guide to Its Roads, Lore and People. US History Publishers. p. 500. ISBN 978-1-60354-007-0. Retrieved 23 September 2010. 
  11. ^ a b "Nedeau, E.J. 2008. Freshwater Mussels and the Connecticut River Watershed. Connecticut River Watershed Council, Greenfield, MA." (PDF). Retrieved 2012-02-06. 

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