2006-02-23 / News

Jamestowner tapped to grow watershed alliance

By Susan Carroll

Karen Augeri Benson Karen Augeri Benson Jamestown residents might not be aware that the Taunton River impacts the waters of Narragansett Bay that surround us. But Karen Augeri Benson wants to change that.

“The Taunton River is the largest single source of fresh water into Mount Hope Bay and, thereafter, Narragansett Bay,” explains Benson, a resident of Jamestown since 1997. This month Benson began two-year stint as a part-time staff attorney with the Taunton River Watershed Alliance, a non-profit association of concerned individuals, businesses, and organizations who are dedicated to protecting and restoring the Taunton River watershed, its tributaries, wetlands, floodplains, river corridors, and wildlife.

With a background in environmental protection, Benson’s goal is to advance the alliance’s interests by providing assistance with advocacy, negotiation with other organizations, administrative processes, and litigation, if necessary. She’s also charged with helping to build awareness of the organization and its goals.

“The alliance has several key initiatives, including improving to support breeding, land preservation, resource protection, and smart growth,” says Benson.

The watershed is home to many species, among them native sturgeon, fresh-water mussels, and bald eagles. As an angler, Benson puts the resource’s importance into perspective. “An estimated two million adult alewives swam up the Taunton River in 2002, a critical component in the food chain for game fish.”

A past president and current member of the board of Save The Bay, Benson understands how important preservation efforts are to improving the quality of our area’s water and its habitats and wetlands. “But unlike Narragansett Bay, which surrounds us, the Taunton River is more subtle,” says Benson. “It can be hidden.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s not large. The 562-squaremile Taunton River watershed is the second largest in Massachusetts, running through 38 cities and towns in the state and entering Rhode Island below the Braga Bridge in Fall River.

Passing through many urban settings, one of the challenges for the Alliance is to balance industrial use with recreational use. “They’re not mutually exclusive,” says Benson. In the past, the watershed alliance successfully worked to ensure appropriate discharge from the Brayton Point Power Plant in Somerset, Mass., and is currently working to protect those areas of the watershed that are threatened by increasing development.

One of the best ways to further the alliance’s objectives, says Benson, is through education. Often, that just requires getting people onto the river and its surrounding areas. “We hold a lot of events designed to improve access to the watershed, like canoe races and nature walks. Introducing residents to the natural wonders of the Taunton is a great way to mobilize people to take action to protect and restore the river corridor,” says Benson.

The alliance was formed over 15 years ago and measures its impact both empirically and subjectively. Water-quality monitoring, shoreline surveys and land acquisition are just some of the data the organization collects to gauge the success of its efforts and identify areas of improvement.

“With greater awareness, funds, and action, we can continue to enhance the beauty and character of this valuable natural resource,” says Benson.

Benson lives on High Street with her husband, John “Fud” Benson. Her interest in the Taunton River stems from many years of working in Southeastern Massachusetts. “I’ve always recognized what a great source of fresh water it was and how, ultimately, the health of the river impacts the water in our bay.”

While working with the alliance, Benson is continuing in private practice with the Law Office of Alan A. Amaral in Fall River.

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