Ipswich watershed map
Located in northeastern Massachusetts, the Ipswich River Watershed encompasses approximately 155 square miles of land and includes all or part of 21 communities, with an estimated population of 160,000 people.

The Ipswich River begins in the northeast corner of Burlington and flows through a mosaic of different land use types. The river eventually flows to Plum Island Sound in Ipswich. Stream gradients in the watershed are low, typical of many coastal rivers. Along its course, the river and its many tributaries flow through and adjacent to wetlands, which help to maintain excellent water quality throughout the watershed.

The base flow of the Ipswich River is derived mainly from groundwater and wetlands. During much of late summer and early fall, when evapotranspiration rates and water withdrawals are high, streamflow in the Ipswich River Watershed is severely affected, causing the river to flow backwards and sometimes even run dry.

Using current estimates, approximately 350,000 people rely on the Ipswich River Watershed as their source of public drinking water. Most of these people live outside the watershed. About 74 percent of the basin is forestland, which includes various levels of residential land use, and about 10 percent is covered by lakes, ponds, and marshes. There are a total of 77 lakes and ponds in this watershed, 36 of which are at least 10 acres in area.

Watershed Priorities

  • Manage the factors influencing the river's low flow
  • Work with communities that rely on the river to develop a watershed plan for sustainable development, while restoring the river's health
  • Continue to work with local schools on the importance of the river and the watershed
  • Collaborate with watershed partners to improve and restore fisheries and wildlife habitat, including the herring restoration work currently underway
  • Identify sources of pollution that affect the health of the river and its resources, including shellfish

Watershed Successes


Martins Pond in the Ipswich watershed
A water conservation specialist has started to work with municipalities and businesses to develop a watershed approach to water conservation. The water conservation specialist will be developing a watershed-wide water conservation plan and will help municipalities and businesses implement the plan. This is a critical part of the effort to restore the health of the Ipswich River.

The Town of North Reading and the Martin's Pond Association are looking into the causes of eutrophication and aquatic plant growth in the pond and within Martin's Brook. North Reading and the pond association have identified several funding sources and other resources to help with this effort. Awareness of the issues facing the pond has increased, and a number of interested parties have been pulled together to focus attention on the issues.

Watershed Publications

Watershed Links

Ipswich River Watershed Association
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Ipswich River Park - North Reading
Metropolitan Area Planning Council
The Trustees of Reservations
Bay Circuit Trail
Essex County Greenbelt Association
Peabody Essex Museum
Essex National Heritage Area
Water Resources of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (USGS)
Plum Island Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research Site

This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Water Policy