Nashua River Watershed Association Nashua River Watershed  Association & The Massachusetts Watershed Initiative
Massachusetts Watershed Initiative
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Issues and Needs

Future growth projections and development patterns will impact the overall availability for water supply and water quality in the Nashua River Watershed. These sharply increasing development pressures contribute to two general overarching problems in the watershed: nonpoint source pollution and the decline of open space.

As the river assessment information presented in the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Performance Partnership Agreement indicates, nonpoint source pollution is a major problem throughout the Commonwealth, and the Nashua basin is no exception. Paralleling this are the growth trends: since 1950, the population of Massachusetts has increased by 28%, while the amount of developed land has increased by 188%. The population of many Nashua watershed towns has increased dramatically from 1980-1995, some as much as by 30-45%, and population is projected to grow 17%-80 % overall in the northern part of the basin from 1994 to the year 2010. The resultant unplanned development has occurred in a fragmented, sprawl pattern that has a negative impact on both the environment and the economy.

Among the other urgent problems we face in this watershed are illicit discharge of sewage to surface waters, leaching of toxic chemicals from old waste disposal sites, contamination of sediments, excessive inputs of plant nutrients, flooding, deteriorating dams, and inappropriately located development. Solutions to these problems are not simple, nor are they easily implemented.

Water Quality problems in the Nashua River basin include combined sewer overflow (CSO) situations in Fitchburg and Nashua; high pathogen counts and toxicity issues in North Nashua and main stem segments which are on the 1998 federal 303(d) list; elevated pathogen levels in numerous additional reaches on both the main stem and tributaries, as identified by the NRWA volunteer water quality monitors. In addition, there are eight troubled lakes on the federal 303(d) list and many others with known eutrophication and non-native plant species problems. There also remain questions regarding the levels of phosphorus throughout the River.

Long-term problems as identified in the DEP 1998 Water Quality Assessment, SMART Monitoring, the NRWA Sampling Reports, Stream Teams and others must be addressed.

Where NPS pollution has been identified, restoration projects to protect water quality need to be implemented.

A coherent approach to calculating Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) needs to be completed. TMDLs and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits need to be linked through evaluation of point source and non-point source pollutant loadings and upcoming Phase II Stormwater regulations. These new load/wasteload allocations also need to be linked to the hydrologic assessment.

In-stream Flow requirements must be implemented in certain segments in order to protect pristine waterways and habitat from point and non-point source discharges and water supply withdrawals. In-stream flow requirements must also be implemented on those segments already impacted to mitigate future withdrawals and discharges (see Water Quantity below).

While Water Quantity has not historically been considered a problem, preliminary findings from the 2001 hydrologic analysis indicate that many of our sub-basins are net exporters of water (meaning more water is going out than coming in through precipitation or natural flows). The findings of that report indicate that 11 of the 27 sub-basins in the Nashua River Watershed are or will be in the future either high stressed or medium stressed under the Department of Environmental Management (DEM)4 classification. It is critical to begin implementing the recommendations such as inter-municipal water supply planning in those most threatened sub-basins and assessment of aquatic habitat impacts from worsening flow stresses. In addition, there must be critical review of any additional sewering in the watershed, especially sewering that moves water out of a stressed subarea or out of the sub-basin rather than recharging the flows.

The Decline of Open Space is a critical link with all of the above noted issues. The Plan seeks to manage growth and encourage careful land use with well-planned development. In addition, efforts should be made to protect priority land areas for forest, agriculture, habitat, water resources and recreational values.


4 For additional information regarding flow issues, please refer to the Reading Room Hydrologic Assessment section.


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