Excessive water withdrawals threaten regional water security
Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Ipswich River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021, citing the grave threat that excessive water withdrawals pose to ecosystem health and regional water security. American Rivers and its partners called on the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to better implement existing laws and improve regulations to avoid a water crisis that would be devastating for people, businesses and river health.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers facing urgent decisions,” said Shanyn Viars with American Rivers. “We’re sounding the alarm because pumping streams dry threatens not only the Ipswich River ecosystem, but the security of this region’s water supply and viability of local economies. This is a key moment, and what we do for the Ipswich River could serve as a litmus test for improving climate and river policy throughout the country.”
The Ipswich, a coastal river just north of Boston that flows through suburbs and farms before reaching the Atlantic Ocean, is an iconic river in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, even in non-drought years, stretches of the Ipswich River’s tributaries are pumped dry. Dry riverbeds result in fish kills, ecological damage, loss of recreation and threats to the quality and security of the water supply. American Rivers called the Ipswich River “the poster child” for the state’s outdated water system. Eighty percent of Ipswich water is exported out of the watershed and more than 90 percent of withdrawals are exempt from regulation. Climate change is exacerbating the threat, with more severe and extended droughts creating increased risk to water supplies.
“Our communities and residents are increasingly worried about having enough clean water for critical needs,” said Patrick Lynch with the Ipswich River Watershed Association. For Lynch’s group, the last two droughts have been a wake-up call. “Solutions need to come from all levels. We’re proposing ways for residents, towns, and state agencies to help safeguard our limited water supplies and address the climate crisis.”
American Rivers and its partners called on the state to implement more balanced regulations that will reduce conflict between communities and spur greater collaboration between water users.
“Massachusetts is fortunate to have so many protected natural spaces around our rivers and wetlands, like the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary,” said Heidi Ricci, Director of Policy at Mass Audubon. “But these waterways are drying up due to unsustainable water use practices, worsened by climate change. We need strong leadership from our state agencies to help our communities become more climate resilient, and to protect these precious land and water resources for people and wildlife.”
“I’ve lived in Middleton my whole life. In many areas on my side of town we only have well water. We’ve already lowered the pump in our well. With frugal use, we hope it continues to give drinking water. It is very expensive to have a new well, a deeper well, drilled. All the unregulated use is hurting both residents and the health of our ecosystems. Our rivers are turning into puddles. We need to fix this. It is only fair and equitable that we all respect the water we have and follow the same rules. We can’t sustain life in our communities or in our rivers if we don’t work together,” said Sandy Rubchinuk, Retired School Teacher, Middleton Stream Team President.
The Ipswich River is the main source of drinking water for 350,000 people and businesses in 14 communities. It also provides excellent recreation opportunities for residents and visitors. Paddlers flock from the Greater Boston area to the river, which also offers five million people access to hundreds of trails within an hour’s drive. The Ipswich River feeds into the Great Marsh, the largest salt marsh in New England, and supports a multi-million-dollar shellfish industry.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
The Ipswich River was previously included on the list in 1997 and 2003, which led to significant improvements in water policy that must now be strengthened in the face of climate change.
AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2021
#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)
Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River
#2: Lower Missouri River (MO, IA, NE, KS)
Threat: Outdated river management
#3: Boundary Waters (MN)
Threat: Sulfide-ore copper mining
#4: South River (GA)
Threat: Pollution due to lax enforcement
#5: Pecos River (NM)
Threat: Pollution from proposed hardrock mining
#6: Tar Creek (OK)
Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site
#7: McCloud River (CA)
Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam
#8: Ipswich River (MA)
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
#9: Raccoon River (IA)
Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming
#10: Turkey Creek (MS)
Threat: Two major developments