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

Land Area: 12.6 square miles
Primary Municipalities: Westminster
Permanently Protected Land Area: 2105 acres or 32%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 558 acres
River length: 2.7 miles
Reservoir: Wachusett Lake

% Imperviousness: approximately 8 %
Land Use: 71% forest, 10% residential, 7% water
# of MA NHESP* Priority Habitat Sites: 1
# of NPDES* permits: 1 Minor, 1 Major NPDES
Most threatened waterbodies: Flag Brook downstream of Fitchburg municipal landfill

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 primarily lies in the community of Westminster with a part in Fitchburg and Princeton and a very small part extending into Leominster. Located in the "fuzzy" zone straddling the Worcester Plateau and Southern New England Coastal Plains ecoregions2 of central Massachusetts, this area drains northeasterly into the North Nashua River by the West Fitchburg Wastewater Treatment Facility at the intersection with the Whitman River below Snows Mill Pond. Indeed, the North Nashua River begins at the confluence of Whitman River and Flag Brook. Route 2 travels through the northern section of this subbasin and Routes 31 and 140 pass through a portion as well.

Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes3. This subbasin begins at higher elevations in Westminster, most notably Mt. Wachusett, which forms a semi-circular ridge along this subbasin's southern divide. Another two prominent ridgelines reach off of the Worcester Plateau providing upland connections to other nearby habitat focus areas: Snow Hill-Crow Hills to Mt. Wachusett and Palmer Hill-Ball Hill (which forms the eastern divide of this subbasin) to the Wekepeke.

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Land Ownership and Land Use4 Patterns: The land-use pattern is 71% forest (hardwood mixed with softwood) or wetland. Low-density residential settlement as well as concentrated settlements and strip development located near town centers and along major roads account for a total of 10% residential. Notably, 7% of the total land area is water. Commercial operations, industry and other developed land uses are not significant. The Fitchburg Municipal Landfill located in Westminster (and abutting the Leominster State Forest on three sides) is scheduled to soon roughly double in size. This landfill, operated by Waste Management Inc.,serves a state-wide if not regional function. In its former unlined construction, it most likely has negatively impacted Flag Brook as its drainage ponds discharged into this waterway. Though there may be other temporary environmental consequences of expansion, especially during blasting/excavation phases, the new lined design should be benign from a water quality standpoint.

A substantial percentage of this subbasin is owned by the state Department of Environmental Management in Wachusett Mountain State Reservation and Leominster State Forest. Another large percentage is designated municipal water supply land. A low percentage (8%) of total impervious surfaces5 -- namely, paved areas such as streets, driveways, and parking lots -- for this subbasin indicates that issues of compromised stormwater and other non-point sources of contaminants (for example: pesticides, fertilizers, oils, asphalt, pet wastes, salt, sediment, litter and other debris) are not a pressing concern.

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Major Water Resource Issues: A large high- and medium-yield aquifer runs north-south through the center of this subbasin underlying the Wyman/Grassy Ponds-Wachusett Lake area. Major waterbodies in this subbasin include: Crow Hill, Meetinghouse, Oak Hill, Rice Meadow, Saw Mill, and Wyman/Grassy Ponds, and Wachusett Lake. Saw Mill and Upper Crow Hill Ponds6 are considered eutrophic and contain noxious and non-native plants. Flag Brook proper is classified as a Class B waterbody. In this subbasin there are no wastewater treatment facilities and two water withdrawal permitees: Wachusett Mountain Associates -- registered to withdraw 0.23 MGD of surface and groundwater - and Custom Papers Group registered to withdraw 1.6 MGD of surface water from Sawmill Pond.

Based on recent findings in an Hydrologic Analysis (inflow/outflow) by Camp, Dresser, Mckee, under contract with EOEA for the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative Nashua Team, the Flag Brook sub-basin is currently under a high level of stress, and will continue a high level of stress into 2020. This means that the net average August outflow from the sub-basin equals or exceeds the estimated natural August average flow.

It is important to note that this area, which is predicted to have some form of stress also contains multi-month reservoirs. These reservoirs are capable of storing large flows in the spring and holding them for use during low flow periods in late summer. Because of the stored volume, the impact of large demands in these basins may not be as great as the stress-classification system implies; it is possible that normal low flows are still being released from these reservoirs. To properly determine the stress levels in this sub-basin, a more detailed study is required.

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Recreation and Priority Habitat Areas: Wachusett Mountain Ski Area is the outstanding recreational destination in the subbasin and is a state-wide resource. Nearly 5 miles of the long-distance Mid-state Trail passes through this subbasin; although it may be noted that there are no trail easements thereon. Perhaps the best example of an acidic talus slope in the entire Nashua River watershed is found at base of cliffs on the eastern slope of Crow Hills, which is a well-known and heavily frequented climbing site.

There is one state-designated Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Project (MA NHESP) Rare Wetlands Priority Habitat area centered on an unnamed tributary running toward Wyman Pond off the northwest slope of Mt. Wachusett. There are two MA NHESP Rare Wetlands priority sites: one at the same area as the one above and another covering the summit of Mt. Wachusett. There are two Jeff Collins identified core areas which encompass parts of this subbasin: 1) Wachusett Mountain and 2) Notown Reservoir. Wachusett Mountain, where a significant percentage of Massachusett's total old-growth forest acreage is located, is considered to be of Moderate Biodiversity Significance and an Exemplary Natural Community among MA NHESP Priority Sites. Notown Reservoir core area is a part of Leominster State Forest Habitat Protection focus area, which is a crucial piece of any effort to maintain core wildlife habitat in the watershed, and thus, should be one of the highest priorities for concerted land protection in the watershed. Protection priorities should be the west and southwestern slopes of Crow Hills and the Flag Brook area north of the Leominster State Forest.

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Resource Protection Goals and Recommended Actions

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

  • Monitor development activities in the area between Saw Mill Pond and Notown Reservoir south of Route 2 and north of the Leominster State Forest.
  • Land protection efforts to focus on remaining undeveloped shoreline on Saw Mill Pond in Fitchburg.
  • 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 the Flag Brook 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.
  • 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.

  • Work toward securing trail easements on sections of the Mid-state Trail.
  • Improve canoeing, fishing, and swimming opportunities by removing weeds from lakes.
  • 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 Fitchburg with its Clean Water Act-mandated MS-4 Phase II Stormwater requirements* This municipality 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.
  • Help develop and disseminate Best Management Practices for small-scale, hobby type agricultural operations.
  • Monitor Fitchburg Municipal Landfill expansion for compliance with leachate management.
  • Survey invasive plant infestation and conduct spot treatment to conduct spread in Saw Mill and Upper Crow Hill Ponds.
  • Identify Water Management Act (WMA)* withdrawals in the Flag Brook subwatershed. Evaluate compliance with registration and/or permit limits.
  • Identify the degree of threat from potential faulty/ illicitly discharging septic systems, which may result in bacterial and nutrient contamination of nearby streams and groundwater.
  • Identify underground storage tanks (USTs) and work to have them removed.

GOAL: Reduce negative effects of 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 Collaborative7 workshop offerings).
  • Increase or establish staff hours of 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 Ecoregions are areas with generally similar climate, bedrock geology, soils, vegetation, and shape of the land. The Worcester Plateau (or Monadnock Upland) has granite and schist bedrock and is cooler than the more moderate Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion, which has glacial till and outwash deposits for bedrock. 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 Crow Ponds and Wachusett Lake are of particularly high value for their undeveloped perimeters; such areas may serve as nesting habitat for Common loon, a species of special concern.

7 Citizens Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC)
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