After two decades of conversation and planning, the Upper Pond, which empties into Gorham's Pond, and then eventually moves on to Long Island Sound, is close to being dredged and returned to its natural state.

Approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the state attorney general will allow the Friends of Gorham's Pond to move forward with Total Clean System, a new dredging technology.

"It's been a long bureaucratic trail, but now we're in a position to move forward," John Lundeen, president of Friends of Gorham's Pond, said.

The Upper Pond is the last remaining undredged pond in the two-decades-long effort to restore the Gorham's Pond watershed, including the Stony Brook and Goodwives River, according to Lundeen.

Darien will be looked to by the state as a pilot test for the Total Clean System, which separates the pollutants from the larger granules of sand. The result is clean sand that can be used for beach restoration, for example.

Sample sediment will be tested at the end of May to see if the system is effective. If not, the dredging of the pond will be subject to normal state requirements and the wet and heavy sediment will need to be hauled to an approved disposal site, which can be costly, Lundeen said.

Lundeen said the state is eyeing what Darien is doing and whether the new technology will be effective.

"In the wake of (Superstorm) Sandy, municipalities are looking for sand for dune reconstruction and beach reconstruction," Lundeen said.

In the past, sand has been dredged from Long Island Sound and trucked up to Darien, but due to transport costs, the process can be quite expensive. The cost to replenish two to three inches of beach cover at Pear Tree Point Beach and Weed Beach is $40,000 per beach.

Lundeen hopes the Upper Pond will be dredged in the late summer, when the water levels are at their lowest, but if there are any delays, the project could be pushed back one year.

"We want to see this go forward in this window of opportunity," Lundeen said.

Darien was one of 17 towns to receive a portion of a $4.8 million Small Town Economic Assistance Program grant in August to improve the Goodwives River watershed.

The $400,000 grant to the town will be used to build an aquatic habitat and remove sediment within the Goodwives River watershed from Upper Pond.

The Friends group has been working to preserve and restore the fresh water in the Goodwives River and Stony Brook watershed, which both drain 65 percent of Darien's land area.

In 2010, the organization received a $150,000 STEAP grant, much lower than the amount needed to complete the projects, Lundeen said. However, after conversations with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, it received permission to repair and dredge the Upper Pond.

The smaller project could be done with less money to clear upstream sediment that threatens Gorham's Pond, and to demonstrate the application of new filtration technologies: repair/reconstruction of Upper Pond Dam on private property, including a fish ladder; dredging in Goodwives River, both above and below the dam; and environmental remediation as dredging allows, according to the Friends' website.

The Upper Pond is the primary source of accumulated road sand, which eventually winds up in Gorham's Pond. Over time, the accumulation of silt would turn Gorham's Pond into marshland. Nearly all of the small and private ponds located in the Goodwives River watershed have been dredged, according to the Friends group.

In 2010, sample dredging found that sediment in the water systems was mildly polluted with highway hydrocarbons.

The proposal for the 2010 STEAP grant stated that if the contaminated sediment were not removed, it would flow into Darien Harbor and negatively affect the water quality of Long Island Sound. Another benefit of removing sediment from the mouth of Stony Brook is the lower risk of flooding in areas between the pond and Town Hall and as far north as Cherry Street and Hecker Avenue.; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews