Conservation & Environment Commission



1 - Introduction

2 - Physical Landscape Features

3 - Water Resources

4 - Biological Communities

5 - Land-Use

6 - Recreation & Open Space

7 - Environmental Problems




I: Animal Species List

II: Rare and Endangered Species List

III: Introduced & Invasive Species List

IV: Recreation & Open Space

V: Contact Information

List of Figures

List of Tables

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Natural Resources Inventory for the Town of Branford


The surface waters of Branford (Figure 4; Surface Waters) are generally oriented in a north-south direction and are the result of drainage ways associated with the last glacial period that ended about 18,000 years ago. These water courses of Branford can be classified by the type of water including freshwater inland systems such as flowing streams, rivers, ponds and intermittent watercourses, and coastal systems such as tidal fresh, brackish and salt watercourses.

Non-tidal Inland Freshwater
The freshwater resources of Branford include a variety of streams, lakes, ponds and rivers ranging in size from small vernal pools and feeder streams to Lake Saltonstall and the Branford River. Intermittent watercourses are those that have a defined channel and exhibit some form of surface flows such as alluvial sediments (sands and muds carried by water) or wrack (plant debris or floatables that come to rest in tree branches or rocks). Water flow in these areas occurs only during rain events. These are scattered throughout the landscape and are often incorporated into lawns and open fields.

About three quarters of the Town of Branford is served by two drainage basins: the Branford River and the Farm River. The remaining approximately 25% of the Town is drained by a series of smaller individual basins that drain directly into Long Island Sound and are most common in the eastern portion of Town. Of the basins in the Town, the Branford River is the largest single basin and accounts for about 45% of the Town's area. The Farm River is the second largest basin and accounts for about 25% of the Town's area.

Branford River Basin
The Branford River is part of the South Central Eastern Regional Complex of the South Central Connecticut Coastal Basin. The main stem of the Branford River extends about 10.5 miles in length and the watershed drains an area of approximately 15,750 acres or just under 25 square miles. The River begins just south of Lake Gaillard in North Branford and ends at the Branford Harbor in Branford before emptying into Long Island Sound. The river drops in elevation from a high of 600 ft at its headwaters at Crooked Brook to sea level at the Sound. The river can be divided into two main sections: a freshwater non-tidal portion that encompasses about 17 square miles (10,800 acres) and a tidal portion that accounts for the remaining 8 square miles of area (5,100 acres). The entire watershed is located in New Haven County with much of the area (>90%) within the Towns of North Branford and Branford with the remainder in Guilford. The last 4.3 river miles are tidally influenced and include both brackish and saline portions.

Approximately 40% of the watershed is developed with residential, light industrial, and commercial uses. The remaining 60% of the watershed contains over 8,000 acres of mature secondary post agricultural forests and wetlands and another 2,000 acres in agriculture and parkland.

The Branford River watershed contains five primary tributaries: Munger Brook, Notch Hill Brook, Queach Brook, Mill Creek and Sybil Creek, the latter three of which are primarily located within the Town's boundary. The Connecticut State Department of Environmental Protection considers the end of the Branford River Watershed to be located at the Penn Central Railroad crossing just upstream from the Route 146 bridge on Montowese Street. South of this point the River is considered coastal and is tidally influenced. Between the Penn Central Railroad and I-95 the river is brackish and tidal while above I-95 (at Ward's Dam) the River is freshwater and non-tidal.

The freshwater non-tidal portion of the Branford River within the Town can be divided into three sub-watersheds: the Upper Branford River sub-watershed, the Pisgah/Queach Brook sub-watershed, and the Ward's Mill Pond sub-watershed. The tidal portion of the river includes two smaller freshwater sub-watersheds: the Mill Creek and Sybil Creek systems.

The Pisgah/Queach Brook sub-watershed is one of the most important systems, because it includes the Branford Supply Ponds and some of the most pristine habitats in Town (Pisgah Brook). This sub-watershed also contains Pine Gutter Brook, an area that, although it still maintains good water quality, is experiencing significant erosion due to loose soils, steep slopes, and poor planning. This erosion has caused a major sedimentation event in the Supply Ponds and threatens water quality throughout the system. Attempts to manage this resource are being implemented; however, until the landscape reaches equilibrium, erosion will continue to be a problem throughout the Supply Ponds and lower Queach Brook.

The tidal portion of the river includes all river points south of Ward's Mill Pond Dam. This portion of the Branford River is the most developed within the watershed. Between Ward's Dam and Route 1, the river is tidal and the waters are freshwater to slightly brackish. Between Route 1 and the Branford High School, the area supports brackish tidal marshes before giving way to saline tidal marshes south of the Penn Central rail lines. Two main tributaries, Mill Creek and Sybil Creek, drain into this portion of the River. Mill Creek is a highly urbanized drainage system that contains about 25% impervious surface within its boundaries. This is quite extensive for a small sub-watershed such as this and has, consequently, caused significant flooding within the sub-watershed basin. Sybil Creek is a small tidally restricted tributary located in the lower Harbor. About two thirds of the tributary is located above tide gates at Route 146 and the upper reaches include both active and inactive landfills. Its confluence with the harbor is near the outfall pipe for the Town of Branford's Sewage Treatment Plant.

Due to the presence of tides and its proximity to downtown, this portion of the Branford River system has the least favorable water quality and is generally rated between B and AA. The sewage treatment plant has its outfall in the middle of the river and further contributes to decreased water quality in this stretch of the river. An upgrade to the sewage treatment plant is currently underway and should help improve some of the water quality in the River.

Farm River Basin
The Farm River watershed drains the entire western portion of the Town and shares a drainage basin with East Haven and North Branford. The drainage divide between the Farm River and the Branford River is delineated by the high angle Jurassic fault (Totoket Mountain Ridge - see Geology Chapter). The Farm River system in Branford can be divided into two major sub-watersheds: the freshwater Lake Saltonstall and its surrounding lands and a lower tidal portion. Much of the land surrounding Lake Saltonstall is protected by Regional Water Authority (RWA) landholdings. Boating and some recreational uses are permitted on Lake Saltonstall and residential development does occur between RWA lands and Brushy Plain Road.

South of I-95, the Farm River flows through some dense residential areas before becoming tidal south of Route 100. Poor planning and insufficient floodplain areas have caused some flooding problems in the system during the last few years. The Town of East Haven has attempted to try to dam some of the upstream areas; however, the State has not been receptive to these plans. Towards the mouth of the system, the Farm River supports some salt marsh habitats and small drainage ways.

Individual Basins in the Eastern Portion Of Town
The eastern portion of Branford is drained by a series of smaller drainage basins that separately drain into Long Island Sound (Table 2: Streams). These smaller streams and drainage ways are generally found in only moderately developed portions of Town and their water quality is typically an A rating. Within this portion of Town are the Stony Creek quarries and Tilcon Company holdings. Due to the gentle slope in topography, many of these streams contain large swamps and freshwater marshes. The tides in these systems vary depending on the topography of the land and land-use considerations and many of these smaller streams are restricted at the mouth and regulated by tide gates or sluice gates (i.e., Jarvis Creek). Even though tides have been restricted in the areas, they do continue to support relative large tracts of coastal marsh habitat.

Tidal Waters
The coastal resources are typically defined by the presence of tides (both historically and presently). Tidal range in Branford Harbor is 5.9 ft (almost 1.8 m) and relative sea level rise (submergence) is about 0.12 inches/year (3 mm/year). Salinities in these systems can vary from fresh (<0.5 parts per thousand) to brackish (0.5 to ca. 18ppt) to salt water (ca. 18+ ppt), depending on flows and upland runoff. Through the years, the tidal flows in many of these systems have been interrupted due to development, roads, railroads, and flooding concerns. The habitats located upstream of these tidal restrictions are typically in some form of degradation and many are supporting freshwater and brackish conditions where saline waters once dominated. Even in those systems that have not been tidally restricted alterations to tidal hydrology due to ditching, dredging, and storm water discharge have instigated vegetation and habitat changes as well. Thus, with the exception of some small isolated areas directly open to Long Island Sound, all of the tidal systems within Branford have been significantly impacted by human activity.

Although the information on ground water resources in the Town is somewhat limited, it is evident that the ground water is generally good quality for much of the Town (Figure 5; Ground Water). The aquifers associated with the Branford River and the Farm River appears to be maintaining good water quality throughout (generally Class A ratings). In Branford, the largest area of recharge is Lake Saltonstall and to a lesser extent the Supply Ponds, and Lindsley Pond. Much of the recharge for the region is actually associated with Lake Gaillard in North Branford (which is also the main source of surface waters in the Branford River and to a lesser extent, Lake Saltonstall and the Farm River system).

Although groundwater quality is good, there are some areas in Town where leachates have polluted the underground aquifers. The most prominent example of a problem area is the aquifer associated with Sybil Creek and the old Branford landfill (see Chapter 7 - Problems). The landfill, which was closed years ago, is still leaching some volatile organics into the groundwater and has formed a plume that is running generally in a westerly direction (following the drainage way of Sybil Creek). These plumes have been monitored since the mid-1980s by Fuss and O'Neill Inc. and are generally not considered hazardous to environmental health of the area. Concern about the leachate did force residents in the area to abandon well water and switch to city water during the late 1960s and early 1970s.


The wetlands of Branford cover a large range of habitats and size (Figure 6: Wetlands). Almost every wetland type found in Connecticut can be found in Branford in one form or another. These wetlands include small pocket marshes dominated by grasses, large red maple swamps, a remnant cedar swamp, and a variety of tidal marsh systems. The wetlands themselves range from somewhat pristine to highly disturbed and vary in their state of preservation.

Although the State of Connecticut delineates its wetlands based on soils, the wetlands noted here will be based on vegetation (for additional information on vegetation see Chapter 4 - Biological Communities) and habitat characteristics more commonly used in the rest of the country. The term swamp refers to areas dominated by woody plants, bog refers to areas with shrubs and mosses, shrub/scrub refers to low bushes and marshes refer to areas dominated by herbaceous vegetation, primarily grasses.

Swamps are scattered throughout the Town and vary in size from small pockets to large expansive systems. The vast majority of swamps are associated with the smaller rivers and streams that dot the landscape and are common along a number of the smaller streams located in the eastern section of Town. Although there can be a mix of a number of varieties of tree species (i.e., white oak, pin oak, willow), these systems are typically dominated by red maple. One of the prime examples of a red maple/mixed hardwood swamp can be found along Towner Swamp Road. The only example of a cedar swamp is a swamp remnant located in the eastern portion of Town. Coniferous wetlands are also not very common; however, an example of a hemlock/pine wetland can be see in and among the ravines in North Farms Park off of Route 139 in North Branford.

There are very few bogs in Town and when they do appear they are typically very small in area and typically mixed in with maples and oaks. An example of this type wetland can be seen along Pisgah Brook where the utility right-of-way has maintained an open canopy. The shrub/scrub wetlands can also be found in this area and dominates much of the lowlands associated with the right-of-way. In addition to the shrubs typical of these wetlands, the plant community is often interrupted by a variety of introduced and invasive species (i.e., multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle). One of the best examples of a shrub/scrub wetland in Town can be seen along Quarry Road off of Leetes Island Road.

Marshes are one of the most dominant types of wetland in Town. They include the inland freshwater marsh and the more common coastal marsh and coastal marsh remnant. When inland freshwater marshes do exist they are generally found interspersed among breaks in the canopies of swamps and shrub/scrub wetlands. One of the nicest examples of a freshwater sedge marsh can be found off of Eastwood Road (off Route 146).

The largest single type of marsh is the coastal tidal marsh. These systems vary between tidal freshwater to brackish to salt marsh and are generally found south of Route 1. Tidal freshwater marshes are located at the head of tide where freshwater flows are sufficient to keep salinities very low but still allow tidal action. Although rare, they do exist at the heads of a number of tidal streams (some can be seen along the Branford River and Queach Brook where they cross Route 1). Brackish marshes are more common than their freshwater counterparts and many of them can be seen along the Branford River between Route 1 and the high school.

By far, the most common type of tidal wetland is the salt marsh and the salt marsh remnant. These can be seen along almost every river and stream that empties directly into the Branford Harbor or LIS and is best exemplified by the system off Route 146 behind Lenny's Restaurant (see below). Other fine examples include the lower Farm River and the systems associated with Jarvis Creek in the Stony Creek section of Town.

A good example of a typical Branford tidal system can be seen at Sybil Creek. The marshes and channels west of Route 146 (downstream) have not been restricted. However, the mouth of the system has been dredged for boat activity and the marshes within the system have been ditched for mosquito control. Today, these marshes are eroding and showing signs of increased flooding (ground is hummocky and marshes are beginning to fragment into open pannes). Above (east) Route 146, it is a different story. Route 146 acts as a barrier to tides and limits flooding due to a series of one-way flapper tide gates (these gates were first installed during the 1920s to allow rainwater out of the system while keeping tidal waters west of Route 146). Today much of the system above Route 146 is dominated by reedgrass (in the past these marshes resembled the marshes and channels we see today west of Route 146). The changes seen in Sybil Creek are common throughout the State.

Programs to restore these restricted systems are currently being pursued by the State DEP. Many require engineering solutions to fix the problems and all will have the goal of reintroducing some amount of tidal flow to the area. One place where nature has restored some of the marshes is east of Montowese Street and south of the Amtrak railroad near Tabor Lutheran Church and Sansone Farm. Originally, the marsh in this area was dominated by salt marsh grass. A tide gate was fitted on the Montowese Street Bridge sometime during the late 1940s. Soon after, reedgrass began expanding out onto the marsh as salinities fell behind the gate. During the early 1970s, a storm blew the gates off its hinges and full tidal flushing was once again introduced into the area. During the last 30 years, salt marsh grasses have recolonized in many areas where reedgrass once stood.

Recently the inland wetland regulations in Town were rewritten to further protect non-tidal freshwater wetlands and adopt a "no net loss" policy for the Town. For further information about wetland regulations contact the Inland Wetland and Watercourse Agency for inland wetlands and the Town Planning Department for coastal systems.

There are a number of factors that may be considered in assessing water quality in Town (Figure 4, Figure 5) including dissolved oxygen (DO), biological oxygen demand (BOD), nutrient loading (nitrates, ammonia, phosphates), bacterial counts (coliforms) and heavy metal concentrations (mercury, iron). The concentration of any of these can vary within a watershed due to flushing rates, point vs. non-point pollution sources, and land-use activities within the watershed. Any classification of these categories are generalized and do not assess any one point on the river. Therefore caution must be used in interpreting water quality standards; a very high rating does not necessarily mean that there are no problem areas within the designated zone.

According to the State of Connecticut's "Water Quality Standards" (DEP 1992), much of the surface waters of Branford fall into the category of "good" quality water. For example, the entire length of the Branford River is suitable for swimming and fishing. The Water Quality Classifications for the major surface waters of Branford are shown in Table 3.

Class AA is the highest quality water designation and can be used as drinking water supply. Class A applies to waters that are of sufficient quality that they can be used for drinking water supply in the future; Class B refers to water quality as fishable and swimmable but not drinkable; Class C & D are problem waters not included in the watershed. An "S" designation denotes coastal or marine surface waters and multiple designations (i.e., B/A) refer to the present water quality and the water quality goal for the area, respectively. Groundwater quality also follows the same designations. GAA is the highest water quality and is a direct potable supply. GA is also potable and is intended for future use and may require some additional filtering. GB is not potable and cannot be used for consumption.