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

Land Area: 4.3 sq miles
Primary Municipalities: Groton, Ayer
Permanently Protected Land Area: 348 acres or 12%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 0
River length: 4.4 miles

% Imperviousness: 11.3%
Land Use: 36% forest, 21% residential, 21 % ag/open
# of MA NHESP Priority Sites: 3
# of discharge permits: 0

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 lies in the communities of Groton and Ayer. Located in the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion2 of central Massachusetts, James Brook flows into the Nashua River at the Ayer State Game Farm. The Groton town center is located in the northern portion of this subbasin and Ayer in the southern portion. Routes 111, 119 and 225 pass through this subbasin. Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes3. There is a interesting geologic feature in the eastern portion of this subbasin known as a drumlin swarm — a line of glacially formed hills- which can be found few places in the world.

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Land Ownership and Land Use4 Patterns: The land-use pattern is 36% 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 21% residential use. 21%, of total land area is agriculture and/or open space (notably orchards and country club/golf courses). Correspondingly, 11.3% 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 contaminants6 (for example: pesticides, fertilizers, oils, asphalt, pet wastes, salt, sediment, litter and other debris) are an increasing concern.

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Major Water Resource Issues: James Brook is classified as a Class B* waterbody. Its headwaters are in Groton center from where it flows south through old fields and agricultural areas. It parallels Old Ayer Road for about a mile before heading west toward and through a residential area. James Brook, though considered a perennial stream, is prone to extended dry periods. Nonetheless, water quality is good and has supported native trout in past years. (NRWA Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Report, 2000) There are no major water-bodies, no underlying aquifers, no major water withdrawals, nor any NPDES* permits in this subbasin. Polluted runoff and sedimentation is an increasingly serious issue in rapidly developing communities.

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Recreation and Priority Habitat Areas: Lawrence Playground in Groton village is a public recreational area. Nearly 3 ½ miles of the 12 mile-long Ayer to Dunstable Rail Trail, owned and managed by the Department of Environmental Protection, is located within this subbasin. The Rail Trail is just being constructed as a combined bicycling, walking, and bridle trail. Half-moon Swamp is a Town of Groton Conservation Commission holding. New England Forestry Foundation's (NEFF) Keyes Woods, and Groton Conservation Trust's Bates parcel are two privately owned conservation holdings. Lawrence Academy and Groton School are large institutions within this subbasin which both have many undeveloped open space acreages. The 85-acre Priest Farm in Groton - through which James Brook flow — had an Agricultural Protection Restriction (APRs)* purchased by the state Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA). As for Chapter 61, 61A, or 61B - "current use"-type tax reduction programs offered in Massachusetts which are considered limited or temporary protection -- there are no such enrolled properties in this subbasin.

More than three-quarters of this subbasin falls within the proposed Petapawag Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC)7 nomination. Similarly, the Department of Environmental Protection's 1983 Scenic Landscape Inventory Protect identified nearly three-quarters of this subbasin as contributing "distinctive" scenic character to the entire region. Others have also identified this area as having special agricultural character, which ought to be protected8.

Perhaps one-fourth of this subbasin, specifically Indian Hills and Half-moon Swamp to the south of the hills, is considered to be a Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Project (MA NHESP) BioMap core area9. There are three state-designated MA NHESP Rare Wetlands Wildlife areas in this subbasin, which are designated Priority Habitat areas as well. These are: 1) at the intersection of Higley and Peabody Streets; 2) at Broadmeadow Swamp; and, 3) north of Groton town center at the western base of Gibbet Hill.

Snake Hill is the one habitat protection focus area identified in the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report (MAS, 2000), encompassing the Indian Hills area in Groton. Straddling the Ayer-Groton border, this area contains a diverse combination of uplands adjacent to extensive wetlands. Powerline and gas rights-of-way provide movement corridors and the network of swamps and marshy areas are likely important undisturbed breeding habitat for multiple species.

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Resource Protection Goals and Recommended Actions

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

  • 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.
  • Develop "meadow management" plan for hay fields and other fields that provide foraging areas.

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. Educate and encourage landowners as to benefits of Chapter 61, 61A and 61B tax abatement programs.
  • 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.

  • Educate the public and municipal departments (especially DPWs) on efforts relating to invasive species identification and removal.
  • Support efforts of the Squannassit Regional Reserve Initiative* (facilitated by the NRWA) and the Petapawag ACEC nomination which encompasses much of this subbasin.

GOAL: Improve water quality in the subbasin.

  • Assist Groton with its Clean Water Act-mandated MS-4 Phase II Stormwater* requirements.
  • Help develop and disseminate Best Management Practices (BMPs) for small-scale, hobby type agricultural operations.
  • Identify any WMA* withdrawals in this subbasin.
  • Identify underground storage tanks (USTs) and work to have them removed.

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 Collaborative10 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 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, 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 ACEC url:

8 According to the Trustees of Reservations 1999 report: Conserving our Commonwealth: A Vision for the Massachusetts Landscape.

9 BioMap url:

10 Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC)

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