Habitat

What river features should we protect in order to protect habitat?

We have tree falls/snags that limit canoe access. What can we do?

We see lawns that extend to the river and yard waste along some of the riverbank. How can we work with homeowners to change this?

Our stream is getting clogged with sediment. Should we dredge?

The Conservation Commission has approved a project and given a permit that I don't believe will protect the river. What can I do as a citizen?

I see heavy equipment/backhoes in my stream. Who do I call?

Who do I call about reporting a fish kill?

Water Quality

Our water quality sampling results show a high coliform count below a pipe. How can we find the source and fix it? Who do we call?

I am worried about runoff from the golf course along my stream. What can I do?

How can we deal with manure/farm animals located too close to the river?

How do I report illegal dumping or wetland filling?

Our Stream Team saw someone dumping oil in a storm drain. What should we do? 

Our Stream Team is worried about a gas station and auto body shop located close to the river. We also noticed that the DPW keeps their equipment close to the river. What can we do?

How do I find out what water quality testing has been done on my river, and when it was done?

How can we start a water-quality monitoring program on our stream?

How do I find out what water quality testing has been done on my river, and when it was done?

Is citizen monitoring data used by the State when determining which waterways should be on the Impaired Waters (303d) lists?

Public Access and Recreation

How do I find out about paddling access sites on my river?

How can I create a public access point?

What are the public’s rights for access to a river?


 

Habitat FAQs

What river features should we protect in order to protect habitat?

Rivers and their floodplains are critical habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic communities, and represent a link between the upland and river habitats. Riparian zones serve as corridors for migration and daily movement of animals and provide shelter and access to the water. The physical and biological diversity of these areas are maintained largely by their dynamic nature and through disturbances such as floods, drought, ice- scour, snags and channel migration. A healthy floodplain helps to absorb flood waters, maintain flows during a drought, and buffer the river from nutrients, sediments and pollution. You should protect as many features of these areas as needed to allow for change to take place (for example, maintain a wide enough floodplain to allow for channel migration). Specifically, you should work to protect:

Channel bottom sediments: where fish and insects lay their eggs and spend a large portion of the lifecycle. 
Vegetated banks: provide shelter and a food source, and reduce water temperature. 
Snags: provide shelter, nutrients, an area for basking and a connection to the water. 
Wetlands: provide habitat, water storage, and act as buffers to the river.

We have tree falls/snags that limit canoe access. What can we do?

"Snag" is a somewhat sinister name for an important resource. Logs, branches and debris in the stream are important for habitat, cover and food for a number of species. Fish find cover in the still cool water, and will eat insects that fall from the trees or travel past the obstruction. Water turbulence around the snag reduces water temperatures and increases dissolved oxygen. Fallen trees provide habitat for a number of species, and other animals use the trees for feeding and basking. Decaying matter will end up as food for insects and other animals in the stream, forming the base of the aquatic food chain. Citizens must work with the town Conservation Commission before removing anything from a river or stream. You should leave logs and branches in the stream, and if you need to create an opening for canoe passage, only remove debris that obstructs flow in the main channel with the highest velocity. See the fact sheet on Snags pdf format of snags.pdf
for further information.

Our stream team sees lawns that extend to the river and yard waste along some of the riverbank. How can we work with homeowners to change this?

Much of what your Stream Team decides to do for outreach will depend on who is on the team and what their strengths and interests are, as well as their ties within the community. There are many ways to work with homeowners, including writing fact sheets or pamphlets, or even an informal letter to all river abutters. Written materials should include pertinent information such as the locations of recycling centers, where to get bins or bags for yard waste, and if there are yard waste clean up days in the town. You may want to get the Conservation Commission involved and have the information come directly from them. Workshops or pamphlets on landscaped riparian buffers and lawn care practices are also useful. If members of the stream team are part of other civic or neighborhood groups, they can help with outreach to these groups.

Our stream is getting clogged with sediment. Should we dredge?

If excess sediment is a problem on your stream, dredging will only be a temporary solution, and will likely need to be repeated. Often, excess sediment comes directly from road runoff in the form of road sand. You should find out your town's policy on street sweeping and culvert maintenance. Sediment also comes from construction sites with poor management practices. Identify the cause of excess sediment and work from there. Excess sediment and dredging of rivers and streams both have serious consequences for stream bank and stream bottom habitat.

The Conservation Commission has approved a project and given a permit that I don't believe will protect the river. What can I do as a citizen?

The Wetland Protection Act (WPA) provides an avenue for you to appeal the Conservation Commission's decision if you believe it does not uphold the public interests identified under the Act.  You can initiate an appeal by sending a letter to DEP requesting that the Department take action and issue a Superceding Order of Conditions for the project.  The letter must be sent by certified mail or hand delivery within 10 business days of the issuing an of the Order of Conditions and must be accompanied by a Fee Transmittal Form available on the DEP web page and a check.

If this is unsuccessful, you can appeal DEP's Superceding Order of Conditions by requesting that DEP hold an Adjudicatory Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  Any person can appeal a Conservation Commission decision to DEP.  However, to be eligible to appeal DEP's Superceding Order by requesting an Adjudicatory Hearing, you must be able to show that you participated in the review process either during the public comment period at the local level or during DEP's review prior to issuing the Superceding Order.  Proof of participation must be something that you submit in writing during either review process.  Further appeal of the Administrative Law Judge's decision is to Superior Court.

If a Town has a Wetlands Protection Bylaw, you have to appeal to Superior Court under the Local Bylaw AND to DEP under the State Statute (WPA).  Even if DEP issues a Superceding Order of Conditions that you agree is sufficient, the Commission's decision under the local Bylaw is still in effect unless overturned by Superior Court.  In order to be heard in court, you must have commented on the project during all public comment periods, and brought up all issues regarding the Wetlands Protection Act or local bylaw.

I see heavy equipment/backhoes in my stream. Who do I call?

The local Conservation Commission should be your first point of contact about alterations to the riverfront area. They should respond to reports of activity that is potentially in violation of the state Wetlands Protection Act, or Rivers Protection Act. If the Conservation Commission doesn’t respond, consider calling the Department of Environmental Protection or the EOEA Basin Team Leader. See the fact sheet on the Role of Conservation Commissions.

Who do I call about reporting a fish kill?

The first person to contact when you see evidence of a fish kill is Richard Hartley of MassWildlife. You can reach Richard Hartley or the Wildlife Districts between 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM, M-F. If you suspect activity that you believe is against the law, you can call the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force at 1-888-VIOLATE.  

MassWildlife, Richard Hartley (508) 389-6330

MassWildlife District Offices:

Northeast Wildlife District (Acton) (978) 263-4347
Southeast Wildlife District (Bourne) (508) 759-3406
Central Wildlife District (West Boylston) (508) 835-3607
Connecticut Valley Wildlife District (Belchertown) (413) 323-7632
Western Wildlife District (Pittsfield) (413) 447-9789

When contacting MassWildlife concerning fishkills, record the time of the observation and the call, name of person contacted and whether the agency made a verbal commitment to investigate the incident. Give all information available including facts and suspicions on what you suspect caused the fishkill. Be very specific about the location and extent of the problem, and get pictures if possible.

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Water Quality FAQs 

Our water quality sampling results show a high coliform count below a pipe. How can we find the source and fix it? Who do we call?

Town Boards of Health have the responsibility to act on issues related to water contamination or health hazards. They often hire an agent to enforce state and local laws and regulations. If you suspect that sewage or other bacterial contamination is entering the river, the Board of Health can investigate the source and require it to be stopped or fixed.

Our stream team is worried about runoff from the golf course along my stream. What can I do?

A member of the Stream Team should try to find out about the maintenance practices of the golf course. Conservation Commissions or watershed associations may work with certain golf courses, or may have educational material that they regularly distribute about good stewardship practices. Golf course managers should be encouraged to plant a variety of drought- and disease-resistant forms of turf grass to reduce water use. Irrigating with treated wastewater is also an option, if approved by the Department of Environmental Protection. Golf courses should use as little fertilizer and pesticides as possible, and should have adequate amounts of vegetated buffers along stream banks. Stream Teams can also target education to the golfers, encouraging them to accept ecologically friendly turf management practices and support further changes at the golf course.

How can we deal with manure/farm animals located too close to the river?

Cows and other livestock that are allowed to stand in rivers and/or on riverbanks can cause various pollution and erosion problems. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides assistance to farmers for creating best management practices on their farms, such as fencing and planting buffers.Farm*A*Syst http://www.uwex.edu/farmasyst/index.html
Rudy Chlanda - State Coordinator
NRCS
451 West St.
Amherst, MA 01002
413-253-4364
rchlanda@ma.nrcs.usda.gov
The Massachusetts Community Assistance Partnership (MassCAP) is a partnership with the NRCS, EOEA, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts (MACD), the University of Massachusetts and other organizations. This program seeks to address and prevent natural resource and environmental problems through education, local training and community assistance. This program covers the coastal watersheds of Massachusetts.

Contact your local Conservation District Office:
Westford Field Office (Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk Counties) (508) 692-1904
West Wareham Field Office (Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth Counties) (508) 295-7962
Barnstable Field Office (Cape Cod and Islands) (508) 362-6327

How do I report illegal dumping or wetland filling?

The Conservation Commission should be your first point of contact when you see evidence of pollution. Other local officials will also need to be informed, such as Boards of Health, Selectmen, and Town Police. Local officials can respond most quickly, will know the location and may know something about the condition. If they don’t respond, consider calling the Department of Environmental Protection or the Basin Team Leader. If the spill or dumping is in an estuary, the Coast Guard should be notified.To report a release/spill of oil or hazardous material, or if you suspect activity that you believe is against the law, call the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force at 1-888-VIOLATE. You can also call DEP regional offices between 8:45 a.m. - 5 p.m. directly, and ask for emergency response.
Lawrence (508) 682-5237
Southeast Region (Lakeville) (508) 946-2700
Central Region (Worcester) (508) 792-7650
Western Region (Springfield) (413) 784 1100

When contacting a local or state agency concerning pollution, record the time of the observation and the call, name of person contacted and whether the agency made a verbal commitment to investigate the incident. Give all information available including facts and suspicions on what you suspect caused the pollution. Be very specific about the location and extent of the problem, and get pictures if possible.

Our stream team saw someone dumping oil in a storm drain. How can we prevent this?

Many people do not realize that whatever enters the storm drain either goes directly into the river or estuary, or has very limited treatment. Education is important to make people understand this connection, and that they should prevent contaminants from entering the storm drains. Many Stream Teams have done "storm drain stenciling" projects with volunteers to paint slogans on the storm drain such as: "Don’t Dump: Drains to Charles River." Other activities can include: writing letters to the Editor, writing articles, taking the press to the storm drain and having them write and article or interview. The Board of Health should also be notified.

Our stream team is worried about a gas station and auto body shop located close to the river. We also noticed that the DPW keeps their equipment close to the river. What can we do?

If your stream team wants to target outreach to gas stations, auto body shops, or other possible sources of non-point pollution, the Office of Technical Assistance (OTA) can help. This is a non-regulatory agency that provides toxics users with confidential technical assistance on methods for reducing the use of toxic materials and/or the generation of toxic byproducts. Services provided by the OTA include:

  • Assisting other EOEA agencies or watershed groups in identifying potential sources of inorganic pollutants within a watershed. Targeting technical assistance on toxics use reduction, water conservation and/or regulatory compliance to specific industries based on water quality assessments and known sources of toxic discharges within a watershed. Working with watershed groups and municipal officials to do outreach on pollution prevention to local businesses and consumers through workshops, publications, etc. Working with other agencies, watershed groups, municipal officials on non-point source prevention, particularly household hazardous waste prevention.
  • Providing technical assistance to cities and towns on pollution prevention opportunities in municipal operations (e.g. schools, DRW garages, etc.)

For more information call 617-727-3269

How can we start a water-quality monitoring program on our stream?

If you interested in starting a monitoring program there are several good resources we would suggest you review: 

EPA's Monitoring and Assessing Water Quality
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring National Facilitation Project
National Water Resource Project Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring
Mass DEP's resources on Wetlands & Watersheds and Environmental Monitoring for Volunteers

DER welcomes any group to be in touch to learn more about water-quality monitoring, please call Cindy DelPapa at 413-572-8837.

How do I find out what water quality testing has been done on my river, and when it was done?

The Riverways Programs maintains a list of citizen monitoring groups throughout the state that are involved in water quality testing. Watershed associations are also doing some water testing, and will know of groups in their watershed. EOEA Watershed Team Leaders will also be aware of projects in their watersheds.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a national database of water quality data, called STORET www.epa.gov/STORET/. You can directly query this database and have the information emailed to you.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)

Water quality and point source discharge data for your stream can be gathered from the DEP. Each state must report every two years on the health of its waters to the EPA. This report is called the 305b report and is used to develop a list of "impaired waters", or 303d list. You can get a summary of basin water quality and information about whether your river or stream meets its designated best use for drinking, swimming, fishing and shellfishing from the DEP. "Appendix III: Basin Segment Information" from the DEP’s annual Summary of Water Quality contains maps of the 32 major drainage basins in the Commonwealth. The associated tables provide a summary of best use classification and identify pollution problems on tributaries and river segments within each watershed.

This can be obtained from:
DEP Division of Water Pollution Control
Technical Services Branch
P.O. Box 116
North Grafton, MA 01536
(508) 792-7470
 

Is citizen monitoring data used by the State when determining which waterways should be on the Impaired Waters (303d) lists?

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the state agency tasked with assessing our waterways and determining the impaired waters. The Clean Water Act says that states must use "all readily available data and information" in developing their 303d lists. With the many miles and acres of rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the Commonwealth, the DEP does not have the resources to complete an exhaustive assessment of all waterways. Citizen based monitoring can assist DEP’s efforts by supplying additional data. Citizen monitoring data can be used to reinforce the DEPs findings, provide more complete set of data and identify hot spots or areas for DEP to do follow-up monitoring. Volunteer monitoring groups must have an EPA and DEP approved QAPP (quality assurance project plan) and have their data already analyzed and presented in a written report to meet the quality requirements DEP has established for their assessment reports. Note that the impaired waters list does have a public comment period which is another opportunity to present data and make a case for a listing of a waterway as impaired.

EPA’s 303d website is located at www.epa.gov/OWOW/tmdl/index.html

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Public Access FAQ’s

How do I find out about paddling access sites on my river?

The Massachusetts Office of Fishing and Boating Access has a publication called "Public Access to the Waters of Massachusetts" which lists over 120 public access points to inland and coastal waters and listing of PAB access locations on the website . Call (617) 727-1843. There are also sites that are maintained by towns such as boat ramps and public access points, that may not be listed in this guide. Watershed associations may also know of and/or publish guides to access sites maintained by other authorities. The Appalachian Mountain Club also publishes a canoe guide for Massachusetts.

How can I promote a new public access site?

To have an access site designated within the state system, contact the Office of Fishing and Boating Access for them to consider a site. The site should be located on publicly owned land. Towns and watershed associations can also get easements or rights of way negotiated with landowners for access to a property, or enter into agreements with the Office of Fishing and Boating Access to maintain sites. Website
 

What are the public’s rights for access to a river?

Little has been tested in the courts with respect to public rights for access along river courses. It is generally believed that the public has free right of access to all navigable waterways (if it can be paddled most of the time). It is unclear, however, to what extent the public may walk on land adjacent to a river to portage around obstacles. If there are questions or problems with access and portaging, you can contact the Riverways Program at (617) 626-1543.

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