Water Quality & Stormwater

Volunteers like Donnan Barnes collect regular water quality data all along the Ipswich River.

Overall, water quality is the good news story of the Ipswich River and its watershed. The river was spared some of the virulent pollution problems that have plagued other rivers, due to lack of industrialization and fairly low density development in many areas, at least until the mid-20th Century. The use of the river for water supply also led to pollution prevention measures. Nevertheless, there are some serious pollution problems in the watershed that threaten public health and affect environmental quality. Primary among these are hazardous waste problems in a number of communities and low dissolved oxygen, which affects fish and wildlife and causes pollutants to be released into the river.

Another major problem is stormwater. When it rains, stormwater runoff flows across roofs, lawns, roads, and parking lots, picking up pollutants like oils and greases from cars, lawn fertilizers, and pet waste. This polluted runoff then flows into storm drains and into streams and the Ipswich River. Polluted stormwater runoff is the most significant water quality problem facing the Ipswich River, and contributes to shellfish bed closures in the estuary.

Remember all drains lead to the Ipswich River! That means whatever you flush down your sink or your toilet ends up in the river — water treatment plants only remove some kinds of pollution. Those storm drains you see along the road and area parking lots, those drain to the river, too. The rain carries whatever you spray on your plants or leave on the ground through those drains and into the nearest creek!

The following are some of the negative results from stormwater runoff as it runs off impervious surfaces:

  • Eutrophication of our streams and ponds
  • Sedimentation of fish spawning areas
  • Reduced water in our streams after the rains (because less water goes into the groundwater)
  • Flooding of low lying areas
  • Bacterial pollution at our beaches and in shellfish beds
  • To learn more, check out EPA’s “After the Storm”

Here are some easy tips for how to do your part:

  1. Permeable pavers at our headquarters, Riverbend.

    Permeable pavers at our headquarters, Riverbend.

    Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly or never on your lawn. Compost organic waste and use the compost as fertilizer.

  2. Take toxic wastes like paint and paint thinners, automotive fluids, and cleaning products to appropriate collection sites. (Visit Earth 911 to find one near you). Don’t pour them down the drain!
  3. If you have a septic system, follow a regular maintenance schedule with frequent pumping and proper maintenance of your leach field.
  4. Use a rain barrel to capture rain flowing off your roof.
  5. Plant a rain garden to slow the flow of water off of your driveway or other paved surfaces.
  6. Minimize paved surfaces and lawn size by planting shrubs, flowers, trees and leaving natural vegetation.
  7. Use permeable pavers for driveways, parking areas and patios.
  8. Pick up after your dog and properly dispose of pet waste. Don’t throw it down a storm drain. Don’t leave it on the ground, even if it’s your own yard.
  9. Use pump-out facilities for your boat and keep it well-maintained.
  10. Don’t litter — and join us for our next river cleanup!