Flow levels on the Ipswich River are at critically low levels and have been since mid summer. The USGS stream gage located in Ipswich near Foote Bros. Canoe shows levels well below the ecological protection flow of 53 cubic feet per second (cfs). Many tributaries, especially in the headwaters area have experienced critically low flows since the summer.
USGS Stream Gage Data: The USGS operates two real-time streamflow gages on the Ipswich River near the South Middleton and Willowdale Dams (Hamilton/Ipswich). The most up to date information from these gages are shown in the graphs below.
South Middleton Gage:
The ecological protection flow at the USGS Ipswich gage was determined to be 53cfs. Flows at this gage have also been below this level since August. The lowest flow on record for this site is 0.86 cfs in 2010.
The USGS stream gauge in South Middleton is currently offline due to downstream beaver activity. This has raised the water level at the gage, which sounds good, but the change in conditions makes it difficult to accurately measure streamflow. Flows at this gauge, maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), have also been below the ecological protection flow of 19 cubic feet per second (cfs) since August. This level was determined in a USGS study to be a safe level for fish and other aquatic organisms in this part of the river. The lowest flow on record for this site was 0.07 cfs in the summer of 1997.
LOW FLOWS EXPLAINED:
Low flows are linked to the loss of river dependent fish such as brook trout and it can make shallow stretches difficult for paddling. Low flows dry up critical habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms, cause water temperatures to rise and lower dissolved oxygen levels.
Another USGS study determined that groundwater withdrawals are mainly responsible for summer low flows, especially in the upper watershed. This is important because critical stream habitat becomes unavailable for fish and other aquatic organisms.
Riffle zones that mix oxygen in the water dry up and stream bank habitat cannot be reached (a riffle is a relatively shallow and usually rocky length of stream over which the stream flows at higher velocity and higher turbulence than it normally does in comparison to a pool). When flows are low, water temperatures rise more rapidly and dissolved oxygen levels decline. Prolonged low flows can lead to fish kills and loss of diversity among aquatic insects. Most fish require dissolved oxygen levels of 5 parts per million (ppm) or greater. We know from our volunteer water quality monitoring that dissolved oxygen levels were below this level at over half of our monitoring sites beginning at the end of July.
Flows in the river are affected by municipal water supplies located in Wilmington, North Reading, Lynn, Lynnfield, Danvers, Salem, Beverly, Peabody and by private wells at locations such as the Thomson Country Club in North Reading.
Do you know where your water comes from? Learn more about your town’s drinking water sources.
We can all do our part to conserve water and improve flows in the river and restore more natural conditions and diversity to the Ipswich River.
EASY WAYS TO CONSERVE WATER
- Never water during the day. At least 50% is lost to evaporation.
- Use rain barrels or cisterns to provide water for irrigation.
- Raise the height of your lawnmower to at least 3 ½ inches.
- Ensure water flows to where it can be used by vegetables and plants, not down the street or driveway.
- Do not fertilize your lawn during a dry spell. Fertilizer forces grass to grow faster and require more water.
- Fix leaky taps and toilets.
- Keep swimming pools covered to prevent evaporation.
Please explore our SaveWaterNorthShore.org website for more tips and information on saving water indoors and outdoors.
This map of real-time streamflow compares to historical streamflow for each day of the year in Massachusetts.
Our volunteer RiverWatch monitoring program assesses the health of the Ipswich River. Volunteers collect data monthly from March-December on weather conditions, rain in the last 48 hours, water color, odor and clarity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, velocity, depth and conductivity. Measurements are taken at 31 sites throughout the watershed. Monitoring reports are available here.
Monitoring Site Map and Data
Note: In the above map, click on an individual site and a series of pop ups will contain the following links:
- Site Data: You can download the data for that particular monitoring site as an excel spreadsheet.
- Monthly Results: You can download a set of graphs summarizing all site data for each month. See how current and past data compare to water quality standards.
- Click away from a site and only the summary graphs will be available.
The water level in the river is very low given the lack of rain since mid summer. Paddling is very difficult from Winthrop Street to downtown Ipswich and not possible in headwater streams and parts of the main channel in Wilmington.
Please check river flow levels because at high water dangerous currents can be found especially near bridges and culverts after heavy rains.
Paddlers please be aware of state requirements to use approved personal flotation devices (PFD) in canoes, kayaks and other watercraft. Children under 12 must wear PFDs at all times in watercraft and adults wear a PFD between September 15 and May 15 and have one for each person in a watercraft at all times.
Tide data for Ipswich River Estuary trip planning.
Plan your paddling trip with these helpful itineraries.
The 2013 Herring count total was 31 herring at the Ipswich Mills fish ladder. The run-size estimate is 295 from April 1 to June 1, 2013. Counting fish is a fun and easy way to make a difference for river herring.