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

Land Area: 15.9 sq miles
Primary Municipalities: Lunenburg, Shirley
Permanently Protected Land Area: 1,682 acres or 32%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 1,585 acres
River length: 24.6 miles
Feeder Streams: Beaver Pond Brook

% Imperviousness: 7.3%
Land Use: 68% forest, 12% residential, 8% ag/open
# of MA NHESP Priority Sites: 4
# of discharge permits: 0
Most threatened waterbodies: Hickory Hills Lake

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 community of Lunenburg and Shirley, with a portion extending into Townsend. Located in the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion2 of central Massachusetts, this area drains into the mainstem Nashua River just downstream of the Devens Wastewater Treatment Facility and opposite Moore Airfield on Devens North Post. Mulpus Brook has its headwaters in the northwestern portion of Lunenburg and is impounded behind Hickory Hills Dam (as well as several beaver dams throughout its length). Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes3. Beaver Pond Brook is a feeder stream to Mulpus Brook. A well-defined ridgeline defines the western boundary of this subbasin. Route 13, 2A and 225 travels through this subbasin.

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Land Ownership and Land Use4 Patterns: The land-use pattern is 68% 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 12% residential. 8% of total land area is agricultural. Commercial operations, industry and other developed land uses are numerous particularly along Route 2A.

7.3% of this subbasin is 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, litter and other debris) are not an immediate pressing concern.

A shoreline survey of Mulpus Brook in Shirley was conducted by the Shirley Greenway Committee in the Fall of 2000. Although several problems were noted including a septic discharge situation at a mobile home park and sedimentation build-up at various road crossings, the brook was generally described as having a good buffer and being of high quality.

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Major Water Resource Issues: There are neither any wastewater treatment facilities, NPDES* permits, nor Water Management Act (WMA)* water withdrawal permits in this subbasin. Polluted runoff and sedimentation is an increasingly serious issue in rapidly developing communities. A small area underlying Hickory Hills Lake is classified as a medium- and high-yield aquifer. The major waterbody in this subbasin is Hickory Hills Lake (a.k.a. Dickinson Reservoir), which has been noted for having elevated mercury concentrations in its largemouth bass7. Feeder streams to Mulpus Brook include various unnamed ones, which constitute its headwaters and Beaver Pond Brook, which has its source in a wetland at the western base of Chaplins Hill in Shirley (and is owned by the town Conservation Commission). There is a wetland complex at the confluence of Beaver Pond and Mulpus Brooks at the base of Deacon Hill (which is owned by MassWildlife).

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 Mulpus Brook sub-basin is currently under a medium level of stress. Looking ahead to 2020, the Mulpus remains under a medium level of stress. This means that the net 7Q10 outflow from the sub-basin equals or exceeds the estimated natural 7Q10. 7Q10 is the lowest consecutive 7 day streamflow that is likely to occur in a ten year period in a particular river segment.

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Recreation and Priority Habitat Areas: Marshall Park in Lunenburg is a local recreation destination. Lunenburg Town Forest, the municipal Cowdry Nature Center, and Hunting Hills Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Lunenburg and Mulpus Brook WMA in Shirley are the largest contiguous blocks of conservation land in this subbasin. There are several state-designated Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Project (MA NHESP) Priority Habitat areas which are also Rare Wetlands Wildlife areas including: a wetland site by Marshall Park and North Cemetery; another Lunenburg site is in the extensive marsh just below the outlet of Hickory Hills Lake; another Shirley site is by Mulpus Road near Hunting Hill Road; and one other Shirley site is along Mulpus Brook just upstream of its confluence with the Nashua River.

The one habitat protection focus area identified in the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report (MAS, 2000) follows the lower half of Mulpus Brook proper, that is, for its entire length throughout Shirley. The four habitat protection focus areas in this subbasin are: Mulpus Brook, Pearl Hill Brook, Squannacook Hill, and Willard Brook State Forest. Protection priorities include the riparian buffer for Mulpus Brook near Brattle and Squannacook Hills in Shirley. The whole subbasin serves as an east-west link from the Worcester Plateau highlands to the Nashua mainstem lowlands in Shirley and Groton and as a crucial steppingstone for wildlife movement towards the large Oxbow/Intervale/Bolton Flats core area.

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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 along Mulpus Brook upstream of Hickory Hills Lake as well as the undeveloped portions of Maplewood Golf Course.
  • 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*.
  • Support efforts of the Squannassit Regional Reserve Initiative* (facilitated by the NRWA) and the Squannassit ACEC nomination which encompasses much of this subbasin.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Work with Hickory Hills Lake Association: 1) to educate lakefront homeowners about non-point sources of pollution and 2) in their efforts to survey and address invasive plant infestation on Hickory Hills Lake.
  • 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.

  • Review the turf maintenance practices of area golf courses up-gradient of Mulpus Brook's headwaters to determine potential non-point source pollution from fertilizer use.
  • 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 [NOTE: The fish consumption advisory list contains the status of each water body for which an advisory has been issued. If a water body is not on the list, it may be because either an advisory was not warranted or the water body has not been sampled.] MA DPH's most current Fish Consumption Advisory list is available online at Additionally, in 1994, DPH issued a statewide Interim Freshwater Fish Consumption Advisory for mercury. This precautionary measure is aimed at pregnant women only; the general public is not considered to be at risk from fish consumption. The advisory encompasses all freshwaters in Massachusetts.

8 Citizens Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) url:

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