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Immersed in Watersheds

CHRIS MALIK ’76 has always been interested in water. At the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, where he serves as Southwest Coastal, South Central Coastal, and Connecticut Mainstem watershed manager, he gets to help keep Connecticut’s water clean.

“My primary role is to work on developing watershed plans for polluted rivers and manage a grant program to help solve the impairments and pollution sources,” says Malik, who has worked for the state of Connecticut since 1989. A watershed is an area of land that drains, or sheds, water into a receiving body of water, like a lake, river, or Long Island Sound.

According to the DEEP website, “As rainwater or melted snow runs downhill in the watershed, it collects and transports nutrients, pathogens, sediments, and other pollutants and deposits them into the receiving waterbody. Watershed management is a term used to describe the process of implementing land use practices and water management practices to protect and improve the quality of the water and other natural resources within a watershed by managing the use of those land and water resources in a comprehensive manner.”

After studying geology and geophysics at the University of Connecticut, which qualified him to work with wetland delineation and permitting, the state’s Department of Transportation recruited Malik to work on those issues. After 11 years at the DOT, Malik moved to what was known at the time as the Department of Environment Protection.

Malik mainly focuses his attention on the nonpoint aspects of watershed management— including failing septic systems and illicit discharges—as opposed to permitted point sources like wastewater plants.

While industrial and wastewater discharges were previously the largest source of water pollution in Connecticut, Malik says that now stormwater runoff constitutes a more significant problem with regard to preventing wildlife and people from designated uses like recreation. A few of his recent projects have involved removing dams that have outlived their life cycles. “Taking down the dam often improves water quality,” Malik says. Some state dams have been retrofitted with hydropower, but many of them are so old that they are not suitable for hydropower use.

Malik has also worked to remove aquatic life impairments and water quality impairments, including trying to restore anadromous fish like river herring and blueback herring, which he says are “very important links in the chain of fish for marine birds and fish in Long Island Sound.”

Another rewarding aspect of Malik’s role is working with the public. “I act as a first contact point for people when they have watershed concerns,” he says, “and the vast community of people working on these problems provides me with the motivation to keep helping them with these issues.”

Malik has been involved with legislative inquiries and grant management, often working with volunteers and representatives from NGOs like Save the Sound and Harbor Watch. He says that there are many opportunities for anyone who would like to join up with grassroots organizations and that there is currently a lot of momentum in reducing nutrient impact, like the nitrogen inputs to Long Island Sound.

Ultimately, it’s a job that he has found to be especially gratifying. “I feel good about the fact that I am making a positive impact on the world and can feel like I’ve done some good,” Malik says.

—Sam Dangremond ’05

Fun fact: The son of a former Taft headmaster was involved with adding an extra “E” to the agency’s name. Dan Esty, son of John Cushing Esty, who led Taft from 1963 to 1972, became the agency’s commissioner in 2011. It was that year that two state agencies, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Utility Control, merged to become the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Today, DEEP has 950 full-time employees, a budget of more than $170 million, and a state park and forest system offering 142 locations for recreation around the state.

Chris Malik ’76, Southwest Coastal, South Central Coastal, and Connecticut Mainstem watershed manager for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.