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

Land Area: 5.5 sq miles
Primary Municipalities: Bolton
Permanently Protected Land Area: 914 acres or 34%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 294 acres
Dams: 2 Bolton

% Imperviousness: approximately 8%
# of MA NHESP Priority Sites: 1
# of discharge permits: 0
River length: 5 miles
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 Bolton, with extensions into Lancaster and Harvard. Located in the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills ecoregion of central Massachusetts, the Still River flows into the mainstem Nashua River at the intersection of Harvard and Lancaster just north of the Bolton town line. Routes 117 and 110 travel through this subbasin.

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). Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes2. The eastern boundary of this subbasin forms a north-south running ridgeline.
A portion of the Central Nashua River Valley Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) — currently the only ACEC in the Nashua River watershed — falls along the entire western boundary of this subbasin in Bolton and Lancaster.

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Land Ownership and Land Use3 Patterns: The land-use pattern is 49% 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 17% residential use. 22% of total land area is agriculture and/or open space. Additionally, there are a number of gravel pits. Nashoba Regional High School, International Golf Course and the Lancaster Prison are three large institutions in this subbasin.

Indeed, a low percentage (8%) of total impervious surfaces4 — namely, paved areas such as streets, driveways, and parking lots — for this subbasin indicates that issues of compromisestormwater and other non-point sources of contaminants5 (for example: pesticides, fertilizers, oils, asphalt, pet wastes, salt, sediment, human litter and other debris) are not an immediate pressing concern.

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Major Water Resource Issues: A large high-yield aquifer running in a north-south direction underlies much of this subbasin. The Still River is classified as a Class B* waterbody. Major waterbodies in this subbasin are the Still River and its associated small feeder streams, marshes and small oxbow lakes. There are neither any NPDES* permits nor registered water withdrawals permits in the subbasin. In years past, the NRWA conducted water quality monitoring sampling (fecal coliform bacteria, pH or DO samples) in the Still River. NRWA's data indicated low dissolved oxygen levels as is typical for the entire Nashua River system. Polluted runoff and sedimentation is an increasingly serious issue in rapidly developing communities

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Recreation and Priority Habitat Areas: The largest permanently protected block in this subbasin is the Bolton Flats Wildlife Management Area (WMA) through which the subbasin boundary runs. The nearly 1,000 acre largely trail-less Bolton Flats WMA — consisting of level agricultural fields interspersed with hedgerows, floodplain hardwoods and wetlands shrubs — is also a designated Watchable Wildlife Viewing Area6. The area is of special interest for the great variety of birds it supports, especially during migratory periods.

The entire Bolton Flats WMA is also this subbasin's one state-designated Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Project (MA NHESP) Priority Habitat Area as well as its only MA NHESP Rare Wetlands Wildlife site, in which many listed species and uncommon plant communities have been identified. One habitat protection focus area identified in the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report (MAS, 2000), Devens/Oxbow/Bolton Flats, is considered a wildlife habitat anchor, which encompasses the northwest quadrant of this subbasin as does a so-called "Devens South Post" core area. Additional conservation lands include Vaughn Hills municipal Conservation Area. Recommended habitat conservation priorities should focus on unprotected land adjacent to Still River.

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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 undeveloped lands in Still River floodplain (notably along Route 110).
  • 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.

  • Protect agricultural views from Route 110 adjacent to river.
  • 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.
  • 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 Public Works Depts) on efforts relating to invasive species* identification and removal.

GOAL: Improve water quality in the subbasin.

  • Identify any WMA withdrawals in the Still River 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 Collaborative7 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 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)

3 "Land Use" description at

4 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.

5 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.

6 See both and

7 Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC)
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