The Ipswich River winds 45 miles from Burlington, Massachusetts, to Plum Island Sound in Ipswich. Its 155-square-mile watershed encompasses all or part of 21 communities. The river has been an economic and ecological asset within northeastern Massachusetts since pre-colonial times, supporting productive fisheries and shellfish beds, and for over a hundred years has powered shipbuilders, tanneries, and textile mills. The river and its aquifers are also a critical source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people who live both within and outside of the watershed’s boundaries.
But the Ipswich River is in trouble. American Rivers, a national rivers protection organization, named the Ipswich River the third most endangered river in the country in 2003. This designation reflects the severe and chronic reductions in flow the river has experienced, particularly since the mid-1990s. Since then, long sections of the river have dried up altogether, several times.
An Integrated Solution
The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) received a $1.04 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Targeted Watersheds Grant program to demonstrate an integrated approach to addressing the problems facing the Ipswich River. This approach encompassed two strategies:
- Low-Impact Development (LID) – landscaping and design techniques that capture stormwater and recharge it to the groundwater
- Water Conservation – education strategies and technologies that reduce demand on water supplies, and associated groundwater pumping, especially during dry months