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Subbasins - Catacunemaug River
Geographic & Ecosystem Characteristics | Land Ownership & Land Use Patterns
Major Water Resource Issues | Recreation & Priority Habitat Areas
Resource Protection Goals & Recommended Actions

Land Area: 20 square miles
Primary Municipalities: Lunenburg, Shirley
Permanently Protected Land Area:
1,249 acres or 20%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 1,335 acres
Feeder Streams: Bow, Easter, and Spruce Brooks

% Imperviousness: 10.3%
Land Use: 54% forest, 15% residential, 11% ag/open
# of MA NHESP* Priority Sites: 6
# of NPDES* discharge permits: 1 minor
Most threatened waterbodies: Fort Pond, Lake Shirley

Location within the Nashua River Watershed Water Resources Habitat Analysis
Open Space Water Resources Natural Heritage
Limited Protection Water Resources Recreation

Geographic Overview and Ecosystem Characteristics: This subbasin1 predominantly lies in the communities of Lunenburg and Shirley, with a portion extending into Leominster and Lancaster. Located in the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion2 of central Massachusetts, this area drains southeasterly into the mainstem Nashua River just west of new Shirley center. The Fitchburg-Boston commuter rail line runs through this subbasin. Route 2A defines much of the northern boundary of this subbasin as does Route 2 along the southern and Route 13 along the western boundary.

The Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion is an area with generally similar soils, vegetation, shape of the land, cool climate and bedrock geology (glacial tills and outwash deposits). Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes3. Bow, Easter, and Spruce Brooks are feeder streams to Catacoonamaug Brook which flows southeast from its headwaters to the east of Lake Shirley until its confluence with the Nashua River. A ridgeline defines the western boundary of this subbasin.

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Land Ownership and Land Use4 Patterns: The land-use pattern is 54% forest (hardwood mixed with softwood) or wetland. Low-density residential settlement, as well as concentrated settlements and strip development along major roads and in subdivisions account for 15% residential. 11% of total land area is agricultural (i.e.: string of APR farms in Lunenburg and Leominster; see below). Commercial operations, industry and other developed land uses are numerous particularly along Route 2A in Lunenburg center.

10.3% of this subbasin is total impervious surfaces5 — namely, paved areas such as streets, driveways, and parking lots — which indicates that issues of compromised stormwater and other non-point sources of contaminants6 (for example: pesticides, fertilizers, oils, asphalt, pet wastes, salt, sediment, human litter and other debris) are an increasing concern.

A shoreline survey of Catacoonamaug Brook from Route 2A to Flat Hills Road in Lunenburg was conducted by the Catacoonamaug Stream Team in the June of 1999. Their shoreline survey indicated that the overall condition of the brook was good. According to the Stream Team, the brook is a wonderful resource for the town of Lunenburg and provides excellent riparian, wildlife and aquatic habitat. Threats to the brook and related waterbodies include: storm drain discharges, road runoff, agricultural practices, and construction activities.

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Major Water Resource Issues: There is no wastewater treatment facility in this subbasin. The one minor industrial NPDES* permit is for PJ Keating, Co., which discharges to Bow Brook and Lake Shirley. The one WMA* water withdrawal permit held by the Shirley Water District to withdraw 0.3 MGD of groundwater from Catacoonamaug and Patterson wells.

Major waterbodies in this subbasin include Massapoag Pond, Fort Pond, Lake Whalom and Lake Shirley. Massapoag Pond is without shoreline development. The Harris Farm APR protects its entire eastern half and its entire western half is surrounded by a large wetland. An unnamed brook connects Lake Whalom to Massapoag Pond to Catacoonamaug Brook. Fort Pond, in Lancaster, is on the federal 303d List of impaired waterways due to its high nutrient loading. Lake Whalom is noted for having non-native plants. Lake Shirley in Lunenburg is noted as being in an eutrophic state (due to high phosphorus loading) as well as having noxious and non-native plants and high turbidity (perhaps due to heavy motorboat use).

Other minor waterbodies include: Dead Pond, Fredonian Pond, Leather Board Pond, Phoenix Pond, Sampson Pond, and Turkey Hill Pond. Feeder streams to Catacoonamaug Brook include Bow, Easter, and Spruce Brooks. The headwaters of Easter Brook are by Jocelyn Hill near North Leominster. Bow Brook originates at Fort Pond and passes through Tophet Swamp before joining the Catacoonamaug Brook just to the west of new Shirley center. Another notable wetland is Long Swamp, which is discussed below. Dams in this subbasin are located at: Bow Brook, Fort Pond, Lake Shirley outfall, and Phoenix Pond.
An area underlying Lake Shirley is classified as a high-yield aquifer with a medium-yield aquifer abutting this and extending south to include Fort Pond. Another small area by Catacoonamaug Brook's confluence with the Mainstem Nashua River is classified as a medium-yield aquifer.

NRWA conducted water quality monitoring from 1996 to 1998 at five stations on Catacoonamaug Brook. Fecal coliform bacteria, pH or DO samples were collected on multiple occasions during the years sampled. Samples taken at a site at the outfall of Sampson Pond and adjacent to a housing development had several coliform readings too numerous to count (TNTC). Activity on the pond and run-off from the developed area may contribute to the fecal coliform levels at this site7. Overall, the results indicate that, other than problems with fecal bacteria, the brook is relatively clean, healthy and capable of supporting a cold-water fishery (given quality habitat, low temperatures and high oxygenation). Impoundments such as Lake Shirley and Phoenix Pond can effect water quality, but seem to show no major negative effects. Polluted runoff and sedimentation is an increasingly serious issue in rapidly developing communities.

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Recreation and Priority Habitat Areas: Lake Shirley is a heavily used recreation destination. The municipality is a large protector of open space given its Lunenburg Water District lands along the Catacoonamaug Brook, the Clarks Hill and Harris Conservation Area, and the Carter Gift parcels. In Shirley, protected lands include the conservation-restriction held by New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) called Valley Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Harriett Lyons Bird Sanctuary, as well as town-owned Spruce Swamp and Holden Road Conservation Areas. Finally, there is a 140-acre Fitchburg State College holding in Lancaster to the west of Fort Pond in a large wetlands complex.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA) has greatly contributed to the protection of Lunenburg's agricultural "look-and-feel" given eight Agricultural Protection Restrictions (APRs)* on the Dellicarpini, Harris, MacMillan, Pearson, Stillman and Vaillette Farms in Lunenburg as well as the Fitzgerald and White Farms in Leominster. Indeed, the Department of Environmental Protection's Scenic Inventory Project identified as much as one-third of this subbasin — which includes the APR farms corridor mentioned above — as contributing important agricultural character to the entire region.

There are several state-designated wetlands Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Project (MA NHESP*) Priority Habitat Areas which include: one at intersection of Flat Hills and Burrage Roads in Lunenburg; small pond north of Massapoag Pond at intersection of Goodrich Road and Lancaster Ave.; along Lancaster Ave. just north of intersection with Easter Brook; near gravel pits at intersection of Shirley and Fort Pond Roads; at Round Street just south of Lake Shirley; and at headwaters of Swamp Brook in Spruce Swamp in old Shirley center. The one habitat protection focus area identified in the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report (MAS, 2000) is Catacoonamug Brook riparian zone passing through Shirley center from its confluence with Bow Brook to the Nashua River. The one habitat protection focus area in this subbasin is the Long and Spruce Swamps area. Long Swamp is a more than 100 acre wetland located to the east of Lake Shirley just north of Robb Hill and is bisected by the Lunenburg-Shirley town line. It consists of an intricate network of eskers and is a likely turtle habitat as well as being often associated with uncommon plant communities. Protection priorities include Long Swamp especially nearest the ongoing subdivision development on Robb Hill.

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Resource Protection Goals and Recommended Actions

GOAL: Protect wildlife habitat and migration corridors in the subbasin.

  • Land protection efforts to focus on undeveloped parcels by Lake Shirley, Lake Whalom and Massapoag Pond, and in Long Swamp area.
  • Sponsor local events to raise public understanding about native wildlife and the impacts of development patterns on ecosystem and habitat integrity.
  • Work with local conservation commissions to gain their backing of natural resource and habitat inventories.

GOAL: Protect high-priority open space, vistas, and community character in the subbasin.

  • Encourage the use of MA Executive Order 418* funding for Open Space and Resource Protection Plans for each Massachusetts community in this subbasin.
  • Conduct public education sessions to promote local passage of Community Preservation Act*.
  • Work toward ideal of at least 25-50% protected open space in each municipality. . Determine which Chapter 61, 61A and 61B properties to pursue Right of First Refusal* options on if the opportunity arises.
  • Apply for Division of Conservation Services Self-Help funds* for appropriate properties.
  • Assist in further DFA APR farm protection projects in subbasin.
  • Work with municipal officials to develop subdivision standards that require proponents to devote at least 50% of land (not including already undevelopable wet or steep land) for open space conservation and encourage mixed-use development and cluster zoning by-right bylaws.

GOAL: Increase recreational opportunities throughout the subbasin.

  • Improve canoeing, fishing, and swimming opportunities by removing weeds from water bodies.
  • Implement Diagnostic/Feasibility (D/F)* study recommendations for Lake Shirley and encourage timely completion of its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Report*.
  • Educate the public and municipal departments (especially Public Works Depts) on efforts relating to invasive species identification and removal.

GOAL: Improve water quality in the subbasin.

  • Assist Lunenburg with its Clean Water Act mandated Phase II Stormwater requirements*.Lunenburg will be required to obtain permits to reduce impacts to the receiving streams through the development of Best Management Practices (BMPs)*, elimination of cross-connections and significant public education. CSO controls and the development of a long-range control plan will be required.
  • Investigate possible sources of Fecal Coliform detected in Catacoonamaug Brook near Sampson Pond including potential upstream septic system leach field failures.
  • Survey invasive plant infestation and conduct spot treatment to control spread on Lake Whalom and Fort Pond as well as conduct watershed survey to identify nutrient sources in latter.
  • Inventory, monitor and improve stormwater drainage structures.
  • Identify underground storage tanks (USTs) and work to have them removed.
  • Help develop and disseminate Best Management Practices for small-scale, hobby type agricultural operations.

GOAL: Reduce potential negative effects of some development in this subbasin.

  • Help local volunteer board members responsible for development and land-use rulemaking and enforcement get technical assistance and information regarding techniques to control/guide land use and development balanced with adequate resource protection (e.g., Citizens Planner Training Collaborative8 workshop offerings).
  • Increase or establish staff hours for municipal conservation agents to more effectively monitor construction sites runoff and assist with the preparation of bylaws such as erosion-sedimentation controls.

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* See glossary.

1 For this Plan, subbasins were delineated and analyzed using USGS defined boundaries which sometimes are truncated at the gaging station and may not appear to be consistent with topographically determined drainage areas.

2 The Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion is an area with generally similar soils, vegetation, shape of the land, and especially, cool climate and bedrock geology (glacial tills and outwash deposits). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts considers this physiographic region the "Central Upland" region.

3 Corresponding to seasonal stream flow changes are notable spikes in bacteria levels during summer and fall. Seasonal cycles of high bacteria concentrations may be attributed to decreased dilution during summer months, when tributary flows are lowest. (Wachusett Reservoir Watershed Protection Plan Update 1998, pp. 2-29)

4 "Land Use" description at

5 According to the Center for Watershed Protection's Rapid Watershed Assessment Handbook protocol, an area with less than 10% (8 - 12%) impervious surfaces is considered "partially threatened"; less than 8% is considered "sensitive" or what one would say is a relatively pristine environment;" 12 - 20% is considered "threatened"; and more than 20% is considered "non-supporting" or urbanized. The figures cited in the narrative are based on NRW Estimated Impervious Cover by Sub-basin based on '85/'92 Land Use: MDC '98 Methods Estimate by Bruce Bayne and Jo Anne Carr of the EOEA Nashua River Watershed Team.

6 Primary pollutants of concern in stormwater are suspended solids, nutrients, metals, oil and grease (PAH), temperature and bacteria. The sources of bacteria in urban settings are typically human litter and animal waste left on driveways, lawns, commercial and residential streets, parking lots and rooftops.

7 However, Year 2000 water monitoring results showed consistently low fecal coliform results.

8 Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC)

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