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Story By John Murray

Ripples expand across water, so it’s no surprise that ripples from a good deed flowed outward from a water company, through a local manufacturer helping the planet’s oceans, to an environmental non-profit focused on restoring the Naugatuck River.

The story begins with the Aquarion Water Company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Aquarion is the public water supply company for 700,000 people in 68 municipalities in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and for the past decade the company has honored companies and volunteers who work to preserve and protect the state’s water, air and wildlife.

The winner of the 2021 Aquarion Environmental Champion Award in the Large Business category was Drew Maine of Waterbury. The company was acknowledged for an innovative system it developed that keeps plastic bottles out of the oceans. Travel to the most remote island in the world and you’ll find the beaches littered with plastic bottles and debris.

In addition to its global impact, Drew Marine was voted the Most Community-Minded Business in Greater Waterbury in the Observer’s annual readers’ poll, and is a generous contributor to the quality of life in the region.

Drew Marine, which supplies maritime ships all across the world, chose to do something about it. The company, led by CEO Frank Monterio, developed a system called HDrewO that purifies water onboard a ship so the crew has access to clean drinking water without relying on water in plastic bottles.

Chemists at work inside Drew Marine.

HDrewO has the potential to keep millions of plastic bottles from entering the environment while maintaining a healthier crew, reducing costs and protecting the environment.

Drew Marine CEO Frank Monteiro, foreground, and vice president, Jason Van Stone, left, gave members of Aquarion a tour of their facility.

Aquarion representative George Logan recently visited Drew Marine to present Monterio with the Environmental Champion Award. In addition to a beautiful trophy-like award, Aquarion presented a $2500 check to a local environmental organization of Drew Marine’s choice.

The choice was to give the $2500 to the Naugatuck River Revival Group and this is where the ripple expands straight up the Naugatuck Valley to Waterbury, and beyond.

Kevin Zak of the Naugatuck River Revival Group explained to Monteiro about the fight to dismantle the Kinneytown Dam in Seymour.

Kevin Zak and his wife, Sondra, form the Naugatuck River Revival Group and they have been championing the removal of the Kinneytown Dam in Seymour, the final roadblock to restoring the Naugatuck River to a wild ecosystem.

As he accepted the check from Frank Monteiro at the awards presentation, Zak thanked Aquarion and Drew Marine, and said the money was already spent.

The Zaks immediately planned to use the $2500 to pay for legal fees they have incurred while tangling with the owners of a hydroelectric dame on the Naugatuck River. For the past few years the Zaks have reached into their own pockets to hire an environmental lawyer from Maine with experience fighting against power companies to tackle Hydroland, the owner and operator of the dam.

Kevin Zak has described the Kinneytown Dam as a killing machine. “I’ve plunged my camera under the water and found hundreds of fish trapped in pools at the base of the Kinneytown Dam,” Zak said. “There is a fish ladder at the dam, but it doesn’t work very well, and the fish were dying before they could get up the river and spawn.”

Kevin Zak has spent much of the past two decades cleaning garbage and industrial debris from the Naugatuck River, and now says his efforts to remove the Kinneytown Dam is the most important work of his lifetime.

Zak has been able to enlist the help of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and Save The Sound and all three organizations filed a complaint against Hydroland with the Federal Regulatory Commission in late September asking for that company’s exemption be revoked (which would force them to reapply for a license to operate the power plant).

“We have a strong coalition opposing Hydroland,” Zak said. “After years of hard work this is now a very fluid and fast-moving situation.”

The Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment (DEEP) is now involved, and so is the Federal Bureau of Fish and Wildlife, and the United States Department of the Interior.

Zak describing the damage the Kinneytown Dam does to migrating fish in the Naugatuck River. Remove the dam, he says, and the river will be restored to a wild ecosystem.

What Kevin Zak has accomplished is stunning – he has taken a flake of snow and created an avalanche – but what exactly does he want to happen?

“The dam is structurally flawed, and it would be great if it was torn down,” Zak said. “But what’s most important is that the fish ladder is updated to modern standards to allow the fish to swim up and down the river and spawn.”

And when that happens, and Kevin Zak expects that to happen one day, the Naugatuck River, after centuries of industrial abuse will be returned to a wild and free river. And the ripples from that will extend for centuries.•

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