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

Land Area: 11.5 square miles
Primary Municipality: Sterling
Permanently Protected Land Area: 1,448 acres (13.4 sq miles) or 20%
Limited Protection Land Area (Chap. 61, etc.): 18 acres
River length: 5.1 miles
Reservoirs: Heywood Reservoir, Fitch Basin, Spring Basin, and Upper and Lower Lynde Basins

% Imperviousness: ~ 8%
Land Use: 67.7% forest, 8% residential, 13.2% ag./open
# of Priority Habitat Sites: 3
# of discharge permits: none
Most threatened waterbodies: Lynde Basin
Dams: none
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: Most of this subbasin1primarily lies in the municipality of Sterling with parts extending into Leominster and Lancaster. Located in the Southern New England Coastal Hills and Plains ecoregion2 of central Massachusetts, this area drains into the North Nashua River in Lancaster just below Bartletts Pond. Streamflow, as in most of New England, has significant seasonal changes3. Topography is generally hilly, encompassing numerous wetlands, broad valleys, and floodplains.

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Land Ownership and Land Use4 Patterns: The land-use pattern is predominantly rural, undeveloped forest (hardwood mixed with softwood) or wetland plus low-density residential settlement in the hilly upland areas. Concentrated settlements and strip developments are located near town centers and along major roads. Heavily traveled Interstate 190 runs through this subbasin. The highway, which connects Worcester and Leominster, has led to and will continue to lead to increased development pressures, primarily of single-family residences. Agriculture (notably "hobby farms" and backyard horse paddocks), commercial operations, industry and other developed land uses are less significant. However, sand and gravel extraction operations are contributing to sedimentation and land use change.

A low percentage (less than 10%) of total impervious surfaces5 — namely, paved areas such as streets, driveways, and parking lots — for this whole subbasin indicates that concerns of compromised stormwater and other non-point sources of contaminants (i.e.: pesticides, oils, fertilizers, asphalt, pet wastes, salt, sediment, litter and other debris) are not a pressing issue.

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Major Water Resource Issues: The amount of permanently protected undeveloped open space and undeveloped woodland in the subbasin has meant that the water quality in the subbasin remains high. This subbasin features a network of unnamed streams and swamps. Wekepeke Brook in Sterling is one of the best coldwater streams in Eastern Massachusetts. It has good tree cover for shading to maintain cold water temperature, has high fertility and moderate acidity and, consequently, self-supporting populations of brook and brown trout. The headwaters of Wekepeke Brook drain to five reservoirs: Heywood Reservoir, Fitch Basin, Spring Basin, and Upper and Lower Lynde Basins (which are fed by Lynde Brook). At times in the past, Lynde Basin has been noted to be eutrophic.

Sterling's Municipal Wells # 2, 4 and 5, the Wekepeke Aquifer, and Leominster's Zone III Area of Protection face possible contamination sources. These include Sterling's landfill in the recharge area, pesticide use in power line and railroad Rights of Ways, and beavers which have capitalized on the present environmental conditions and proliferated to the point of being considered a "nuisance" species*. The most serious damage beavers are causing in this subbasin, in addition to increased localized flooding behind their dams, is from bacterial contamination of wellwater. Additionally, there is concern of potential negative impact on Wekepeke Brook from potential increased aquifer withdrawals. Also, any further development of the Wekepeke Aquifer - from residential septic systems and farming operations could affect the Town of Lancaster's well near the North Nashua River. Note that Lancaster does have a Water Supply Protection District By-law.

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 Wekepeke sub-basin is currently under a medium level of stress. Looking ahead to the year 2020, Wekepeke Brook 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: The recent municipal purchase of the Sholan Farm in Leominster in the year 2001 for conservation and watershed protection purposes is considered a major open space acquisition. Another significant conservation project recently completed in the subbasin is the purchase of part of Ballard Hill in Lancaster by the Trustees of Reservations. The Town of Clinton has owned considerable acreage in the "Wekepeke" Reservoirs area for one and half centuries. At one time, Clinton utilized this source as a potable public water supply until 1964 when it was removed from service as the MDC's Wachusett Reservoir proved to be a more attractive long-term supply. Clinton is in the process of placing a conservation restriction — in partnership with the state — on this "Waterworks" land, which it holds as a reserve. Permanent development restrictions of this area will greatly contribute to the continued protection of the Wekepeke surface and groundwater resources.

Bartlett Pond Conservation Area in Lancaster off Route 117 and the Lancaster Town Forest are local recreational destinations. The Allen Agricultural Protection Restriction (APR) in Sterling is several hundred acres. There are three MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) Priority Habitat sites in this subbasin:

  1. in the vicinity of an unnamed stream draining north, crossing at the intersection of Flanagan Hill, Hilltop, and Brockelman Roads;
  2. Heywood Reservoir; and, 3) along the Conrail line south of Route 117 between Route 12 and I-190.

There are three habitat areas identified in the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report (MAS, 2000):

1) the Ballard Hill area;
2) the Wekepeke Brook area; and,
3) a small portion of the western part of this subbasin falls within the Leominster State Forest/ Notown Reservoir core habitat area.

Protection priorities should focus on unprotected lands adjacent to Wekepeke Brook. The NHESP BioMap data supports the both the Nashua River Habitat Assessment Report and the NHESP Priority Habitat information cited above.

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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.

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.
  • 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.
  • Encourage municipalities to adopt and enforce "Scenic River Protection" type bylaws.*

GOAL: Improve water quality in the subbasin.

  • Assist Leominster 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.
  • Develop and implement comprehensive regional wellhead protection program.
  • Monitor Sterling's Pratt's Junction Road light industrial zone.
  • Monitor Volatile Organic Chlorine (VOC) readings in Leominster's water.
  • Monitor Jungle Road industrial area in Leominster.
  • Identify Water Management Act (WMA)* withdrawals in the Wekepeke subbasin. Evaluate compliance with registration and/or permit limits. Determine potential impacts of withdrawals on streamflow/habitat.
  • 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.
  • Inventory, monitor and improve stormwater drainage structures.
  • Identify underground storage tanks (USTs) and work to have them removed.

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

  • Review the turf maintenance practices of are golf courses 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 Collaborative6 workshop offerings).
  • Monitor increased imperviousness, both direct and indirect riparian zone alterations, and uncontrolled runoff from construction sites to prevent increased stream temperature and sedimentation through macroinvertebrate sampling performed by volunteer stream team monitors.
  • 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 The Southern New England Coastal Hills and Plains ecoregion is an area with moderate climate and bedrock geology (glacial tills and outwash deposits) and generally similar soils, vegetation, and shape of the land.

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 Citizen Planner Training Collaborative (CPTC) url:

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