The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has been participating in cooperative water resource planning efforts with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) since 1909. The USGS is the leading national scientific authority on streamflow and groundwater resources and is recognized as an objective source of data and analyses. Since 1979, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Office of Water Resources (OWR) has been responsible for continuing this cooperative program on behalf of the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission (WRC). The OWR cooperative program splits project costs with the USGS using state bond funds. The program provides the Commonwealth with several important services described below.

Stream Gages

The cooperative program funds stream gaging at 88 sites across the state. River flow is continuously measured and the data is reported every fifteen minutes with most records going back 50 years and some close to 100 years. This data is used by consultants performing environmental studies, regulators for managing watersheds, watershed associations for understanding the characteristics of the rivers, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for use with water quality sampling and permit conditioning and the National Weather Service and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency for providing early warning for public safety during floods.

Observation Wells

The cooperative program funds a network of 95 observation wells across the state. These wells are monitored monthly and reported on the internet (link to Ground water elevations are critical information for Boards of Health performing septic system inspections, environmental and public safety agencies monitoring drought conditions and consultants undertaking water resource engineering studies.

Aquifer and Watershed Studies

The cooperative program funds aquifer and watershed studies developed and used by communities and watershed organizations to plan for new water supplies and effective water resources management. This program resulted in the Hydrologic Atlas publications, which mapped aquifers statewide. Models developed for theses projects are provided directly to watershed associations, communities and the public for use in water supply and wastewater planning. These models are also used by environmental agencies to look at local, long term and cumulative impacts of proposed water supply and wastewater projects.

Examples of Projects Completed Through the Program

  • Precipitation-Runoff Model for Analysis of the Effects of Water Withdrawals on Streamflow, Ipswich River Basin, MA
    The Ipswich River model is used by state agencies, the Ipswich River Watershed Association, water suppliers and their consultants to analyze water use, impacts of increasing impervious surfaces, basin inflow/outflow calculations and development of reservoir safe yield.
  • Fishing at Walden Pond in the SuAsCo watershed
    W alden Pond
    A study of Walden Pond in Concord, MA was completed to determine the potential for water quality degradation at this valuable state resource. Potential pollution sources, such as a nearby landfill and septic systems were evaluated allowing DCR to develop a plan for protection of the pond.
  • Aquatic Habitat Study
    The Aquatic Habitat Study resulted in studies that identified streamflow factors that are significant to fisheries habitat. Two reports on this subject have been completed: August Median Streamflow, 1997 and Relations Between Discharge and Wetted Perimeter, 1998. This is an ongoing study, which continues to develop methods for protecting fisheries habitat. Protection of aquatic habitat is the biggest and most complex issue facing environmental agencies evaluating proposed water development projects.
  • Streamflow Statistics Estimation Program
    This program allows anyone to determine the contributing watershed, slope, aquifer area and flows for any point on any gaged or ungaged river or stream in Massachusetts. This information which is required to evaluate all environmental projects used to take weeks to do by hand. It is now done in minutes via a computer program available free of charge via the internet (link to

Publications and Mapping Resources

This information provided by the Water Resource Commission