RiverWatch Volunteer Monitoring Program


David Paulin monitors the river at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

David Paulin monitors the river at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

When we launched our volunteer monitoring program in 1988, we monitored only eight main stem sites. Today, the RiverWatch Program includes over 50 volunteers monitoring a total of 32 sites each month. These skilled and dedicated volunteers collect data on dissolved oxygen, water temperature, conductivity, color (visual inspection), clarity, odor, depth and velocity. We also sample macroinvertebrates each year and partner with the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration RIFLS program to monitor streamflow at certain ungauged sites.

The Ipswich River experiences low dissolved oxygen levels especially in the summer and in the upper areas of the watershed. Low flows due to water withdrawals are one of the primary causes of impairments along with impervious surfaces that interrupt groundwater recharge and contribute to stormwater runoff.

Video about the RiverWatch Program

IRWA has developed a clearinghouse of valuable information that can help citizens and government officials identify and remediate water quality and quantity problems in the river. Monitoring data are compiled into a comprehensive report at the end of each year.

The data that volunteers collect is an incredibly valuable resource documenting the health of the river. Monitoring reports are available here.

New volunteers:

We are always looking for new volunteers for this program to fill in monitoring sites and as back-up monitors. We are interested in volunteers who:

  • Have a willingness to commit to monitoring on one Sunday of each month.
  • A long-term commitment is a plus.
  • Knowledge of water quality issues is a plus, but definitely not required! The procedures we use can be learned by all.

If you are interested in joining us, visit our volunteer page for more information on this and other programs.


Information on monitoring and quality assurance procedures:

Data sheets:

RiverWatch Monitoring Sites:

 Monitoring Dates for 2017:

      • January 29 (optional)
      • February 26 (optional)
      • March 26
      • April 30: Collect cross-section data at selected sites
      • May 21**
      • June 25
      • July 30 Take second DO reading
      • August 27
      • September 24: Collect cross section data at selected sites
      • October 29
      • November 12**
      • December 17**

**Indicates that this is not the last Sunday of the month

Average Summer Dissolved Oxygen

1997-2015 Average Summer Dissolved Oxygen

Low dissolved oxygen levels are a serious threat to the survival of fish and other aquatic organisms. In the summer, the upper watershed experiences the most severe impact from water withdrawals and higher amounts of surface runoff during storms.


Dissolved Oxygen Study:

IRWA completed a study on dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the Ipswich River that determined correlations with human and natural factors that affect DO concentration in the Ipswich mainstem. Five variables – increasing temperature, distance upstream from the mouth of the river, increasing depth, increasing previous-28-day-rainfall, and decreasing flow – were found to be significant in contributing to lower dissolved oxygen levels in the Ipswich River basin.

Other Studies:

How Animal Wastes Pollute Water (pdf), a study on fecal coliform bacteria and its relationship to animal wastes in the Ipswich River in Ipswich and Hamilton, was completed with funding from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and the USEPA.

In the summer and fall of 1997, a flow study to document the low-flow/no-flow conditions at Upper Basin and control locations was conducted. The results can be seen here in pdf format.

RIFLS Program

The River Instream Flow Stewards (RIFLS) program is part of the Massachusetts RiverWays Program which is part of the Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration. The purpose of the program is to document flow conditions on otherwise ungaged sections of rivers and streams, investigate signs of flow alterations and restore more natural flow patterns. RIFLS staff assist local groups, such as ours, in establishing and maintaining monitoring sites. Volunteers record water depth readings from staff gages that are then entered on the RIFLS website.

The following map shows the monitoring sites as well as the drainage area delineated from each point. An image of the site and results are shown by a graph that can be viewed from within the pop-up window by clicking on a particular site.