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August 28, 2013

Ipswich River making progress

IPSWICH — The Ipswich River, once considered one of the most endangered rivers in the country, is now in “the best shape in a decade,” according to the executive director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association.

“We’re finally, after decades of work, showing some real signs of progress in the river,” Wayne Castonguay said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we’re actually showing that it can be done.”

Pollution levels are also down, and the fish population is starting to come back, Castonguay said.

The condition of the Ipswich River has long been a major ecological concern. The river supplies drinking water for 335,000 people in 14 communities, supports a wide range of fish and wildlife, and provides a host of recreational opportunities.

In 2003, the river was named one of the “10 most endangered rivers in America,” as the amount of water withdrawn from its basin left portions of it completely dry at times.

Castonguay, who took over as executive director of the nonprofit Ipswich River Watershed Association last year, said flow levels have also improved since the town of Reading stopped drawing water from the river in 2006.

Castonguay said Wilmington and North Reading are also considering switching over completely to the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, which draws its water from the Quabbin and Wachusett reservoirs.

“We’re actually seeing water consumption decrease in the watershed,” he said. “The Reading stretch used to dry up every summer, but since then, it hasn’t. If we can get people to conserve a little bit more, the future looks bright.”

Castonguay said the watershed association has worked with the 14 communities that take water from the river to adopt conservation measures, including bans on outdoor watering when the river reaches low levels during the summer.

Last November, the state released a new plan that would gives more communities incentives to switch to the MWRA and further alleviate stress on the Ipswich River, Castonguay said.

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