Tour The Watershed

Take a video tour of the Ipswich River Watershed!

Tour the Ipswich River, MA, with Emily Hart

Special thanks to Emily Hart, Borsari Gallery, and Jackie Specht for making this video possible!


A Tour of the River
Where the River Begins: Small Streams and Wetlands

The Ipswich River begins in Burlington and Wilmington, Massachusetts as a series of small headwater streams and wetland areas. These streams join together to form the Ipswich River.

The Upper Basin: Riffle Habitat and Low Flows

As the Ipswich River exits Wilmington, it flows through Reading, North Reading, and Middleton, Massachusetts. This portion of the river basin is characterized by low levels of water — both in the river and underground. These “low flow” conditions are exacerbated by local municipal water withdrawals.

The photos below show riffle areas — high quality, important habitat where the river should be shallow, rocky, and flowing at a high velocity. Unfortunately, these riffle areas often run dry during the summer months when precipitation is low and municipal pumping is high. (And Maple Meadow Brook from Tour Stop #1 sometimes starts to flow backwards due to water withdrawals!) A large percentage of the water pumped from the river during the summer is used to water lawns and fill swimming pools. Regrettably, these extensive water withdrawals often lead to fish kills and decimated plant and animal populations in this portion of the river.

Photo 1A riffle area in Reading during normal flow conditions.
Photo 2: The same site in Reading during summertime, peak-water-demand conditions.
Photo 3: Riffle area in Middleton under normal flow conditions.
Photo 4: Same site in Middleton under low flow conditions.
Photos by Dave Armstrong, U.S. Geological Survey.

The Middle Basin: Middleton and Topsfield

As the river flows through Middleton and Topsfield, Massachusetts, water levels increase, and the river’s channel becomes more defined. The two jewels of this region are the ecologically significant silver maple floodplain forest spanning both towns and the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield – a property protected and maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society (pictured below). This beautiful section of the river is perfect for canoeing and other recreational activities. (Photos by Dave Armstrong, USGS.)

The Lower Basin: Ipswich and Tidal Areas

The river remains beautiful and canoe-able as it flows through the town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The Sylvania Dam in the Ipswich town center divides the river into fresh water upstream of the dam and brackish water (part fresh, part salt) downstream of the dam. The photo at right was taken just downstream of Foote Brothers Canoe Rentals on Winthrop Street in the fresh water section of the river. The photo at left shows the tidal portion of the river in wintertime.
(Photo right by Michele Cobban-Barden; Photo left by Kerry Mackin.)

A Side Trip to…
The Three Impoundments

There are three impoundments on the river: one in Middleton and two in Ipswich. These impoundments block the natural flow of water and block fish passage.

Photo 1: Bostik-Findley Dam (Middleton)
Photo 2: Willowdale Dam (Ipswich)
Photo 3: Sylvania Dam and Fish Ladder (Ipswich)
Photos by Dave Armstrong, U.S.G.S.

Learn about the issues that the Ipswich River faces:

Back to Top of Page