, Salem, MA

July 15, 2011

Our view: Ipswich River communities 'making progress'

As the southern half of the nation continues to struggle with heat and drought, residents of the North Shore rose yesterday morning to the sight of wet lawns and the feel of a cool breeze.

Summer — once it gets here — is a glorious season here in the Northeast, and coastal Massachusetts in particular. The nearby ocean usually helps cool things down and normally injects plenty of moisture into the atmosphere.

That doesn't mean we can be complacent, however, and over the years the Ipswich River Watershed Association has worked hard at making sure we don't take this region's major source of drinking water for granted.

This week, its efforts were recognized by The Nature Conservancy and Massachusetts River Alliance. Also receiving plaudits were the towns of Danvers and Reading — the former for its efforts to encourage water conservation, the latter for shifting from Ipswich River wells to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority to supply the community with water.

"Here in Massachusetts, we're lucky to receive about 44 inches of rain each year, which should be enough to provide for people and nature," noted Alison Bowden, director of freshwater conservation for The Nature Conservancy. "But when we take too much water from our rivers, streams and wells, or withdraw water at the wrong times, our rivers suffer."

Low flow has for years been a problem for the Ipswich River, which in addition to being the region's main source of potable water is also an important wildlife habitat and recreational resource.

This report cites several watersheds, including the Sudbury and Assbet west of Boston, and Neponset south of the city, as "rivers at risk" due to the demands placed on them, particularly in the summer.

"For decades, the Ipswich faced dry riverbeds and fish kills from seasonal low water, because so much water was being diverted for municipal use," the report noted. But now some of those communities like Danvers — which once fought with the IRWA over the amount of water it could draw from the river — are described as "communities making progress." The town was cited for a new policy that requires developers of new projects to pay into a fund that supports water conservation efforts.

The rain such as that which fell Wednesday night and early yesterday morning is always welcome, but keeping the Ipswich River healthy also requires that we pay attention to the amount of water we use, and conserve whenever possible.

The IWRA has done a good job of getting that message across to those fortunate enough to live here.