NRWA Receives Two-Year Massachusetts Environmental Trust Grant for Habitat and Paddling Improvements on the Squannacook River
The NRWA is pleased to announce that it has received a $19,000 grant from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) for a two-year project to address habitat and paddling improvements on the Squannacook River. The Squannacook River is designated an “Outstanding Resource Water” and was recently included in the Nashua River Wild & Scenic Study Act. It is prime habitat for endangered and special species of concern, and is a prized cold-water fishery. It is also a premier paddling destination.
The focus of the new “Habitat Connectivity and Paddling Improvements in the Squannacook River Subwatershed” project is to address issues with river continuity. The free flow of the river can sometimes be negatively impacted at road crossings when the river must go under the roads through culverts. This can impede the movement of fish and wildlife. NRWA staff, who have undergone training, will be assessing stream crossings (culverts) in the Squannacook River subwatershed under the protocols developed by the North Atlantic Aquatic Connectivity Collaborative. Assessments will help to prioritize upgrades for local Departments of Public Works, with upgrades leading to improved habitat and flood resiliency. Additionally, NRWA will facilitate a process with citizens, local officials, and habitat experts in regards to thoughtfully clearing some of the more dangerous woody debris obstacles (downed trees or portions of trees) in the Squannacook River to make the river safer for paddling. Woody debris is essential for aquatic habitat, and this process will balance boating needs with habitat preservation. A “Lessons Learned” Guide will be produced showing the “before” and “after” process of debris management. This project is being supported by a number of partners including the Townsend Conservation Commission, the Townsend Department of Public Works, and the Squan-a-Tissit Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
The NRWA would like to thank MET for funding this project. MET is a grant-making organization that protects and preserves water resources and their related ecosystems throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. MET is supported through the sale of its specialty license plates. Learn more about the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and the programs it supports. To order a license plate visit your local Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles or log on to www.massrmv.com.
2016 River Report Card
Our volunteer monitors have been collecting and analyzing samples for the past four months. July monitoring found the rivers low to very low with some of the cold water fishery resources warmer than acceptable for fish. Cold water fishery resources support habitat for trout and other river fish that need cool well oxygenated water. No surprise given the drought conditions in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The Squannacook and Nissitissit Rivers are popular trout fishing rivers and had temperatures of 22.1-27 C which converts to 71.8-80.6 F. This may be delightful for us to splash in but is stressful for fish and other organisms. If the flows were higher fish could migrate to cooler upstream waters or deep pools but given the low to very low flows especially in the smaller streams this may be a challenge.
The bacteria levels were mixed, some red and yellows but many clean blues. We are speculating that the localized rain (some monitors did not report rain on the Thursday evening prior to monitoring but others did) resulted in some spikes of bacteria from rain runoff.
View 2016 River Report Card. Note that the Report opens on the E.coli worksheet, but you can scroll through to the other data worksheets (temp/DO, etc.) at the bottom of the page.
Invasive Water Chestnuts Discovered in Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge
Nashua River Watershed Association (NRWA) staff members have discovered and removed patches of invasive water chestnuts in the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge reach of the Nashua River. The aquatic invasive plant, while present in the Pepperell, MA and Nashua, NH reaches of the Nashua River, has not previously been found near the Oxbow NWR. The annual plant (not the same as the water chestnut in Asian foods), grows at an alarming rate to take over vast areas of slow-moving rivers, lakes, and ponds in just a few years.
Martha Morgan, NRWA’s Water Programs Director, stated that “it’s disheartening to know the plants exist in a part of the river where we haven’t seen them before, but the good news is they can be removed easily by hand. The key is to get them out as soon as they are found.”
Water chestnuts are known to exist in two other areas of the Nashua River. The 80+ acres of water chestnuts in the Pepperell Pond impoundment of the Nashua River need to be controlled by mechanical harvesting or other means. The City of Nashua paid for mechanical harvesting of a 14-acre infestation in Nashua, and that, combined with extensive volunteer efforts, has reduced the population of water chestnuts there to scattered plants removable by just hand-pulling efforts.
The NRWA asks boaters to please remove any water chestnut plants they see, and dispose of them away from the water. Every plant removed prevents the development of potentially hundreds of plants the next year. Learn more about water chestnuts and what they look like.
In addition to scouting for invasive plants, NRWA is monitoring bacteria levels at three sites on the Nashua River and a tributary in Harvard on a weekly basis in July and August. “We have been pleased to see bacteria levels stay within state standards for swimming or boating for these sites with the exception of times when it rained hard the day of monitoring, or the previous day,” Morgan said. “The weekly monitoring gives us a much better picture of how clean the water is during the summer months and how heavy rainfall can wash pollutants into the water.” View data from July and August monitoring.
“Our weekly monitoring in Harvard was conducted by our interns, Brianna Harte from Harvard and Anthony Sisti from Pepperell. Both were looking to gain experience in the environmental field,” says Kathryn Nelson, Water Monitoring Coordinator. “After orientation and training, they have been collecting samples and data as well as running the bacteria tests each week. This has given them practical hands on experience while helping the project tremendously.”
This monitoring for aquatic invasive plants and bacteria levels in Harvard and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge, together with public outreach, is part of NRWA’s “Protecting Our Waterways: Aquatic Invasive Surveys and Bacterial Testing in Harvard and the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge” project that is funded in part by a grant from the Foundation for MetroWest.
Established in 1995, the Foundation for MetroWest is the only community foundation serving the 33 cities and towns in the MetroWest region, connecting the philanthropic interests of donors with demonstrated need in the areas of Family Support, Arts & Culture, Environment and Youth Development. The Foundation has granted over $9 million to charitable organizations and currently stewards more than $15 million in charitable assets for current needs and future impact. Learn more about the Foundation for MetroWest.
Native or Invasive? Learning to Nurture Local Ecosystems
Year-long projects in two schools, J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham and Turkey Hill Middle School in Lunenburg, led students to explore the value of local ecosystems. Both projects, funded by Massachusetts Cultural Council STARS Residencies grants, provided for multiple classroom visits and outdoor lessons with NRWA educators in partnership with classroom teachers.
In Ashburnham, third and fifth grade students used the school's butterfly garden as an outdoor classroom where they studied bird identification; bird adaptations, such as the way a bird's beak is shaped perfectly for its diet; and the engineering concepts displayed in animal-designed structures, like bird nests, spider webs, and climbing plants. As part of this project, the students designed and built natural structures for the garden, including toad houses, bird feeders, butterfly "puddle" troughs (where butterflies can extract minerals from the soil), natural fencing, and stone markers for the pathways. At the end of the year, the students' design & field study drawings were on display for the public, along with their enhancements to the garden, all of which were meant to encourage native species to flourish.
In Lunenburg, fifth grade students studied invasive Asian Bittersweet, Multiflora Rose, and Japanese Knotweed in their schoolyard. Their project involved learning to identify these invasives and studying their impact on native ecosystems. The students were given a broad spectrum of art forms to express to their community the need to address the issue of invasive plant damage - song, play, poster, comic strip, or poetry—with a display at the Lunenburg Town Hall.
Thank you to the Massachusetts Cultural Council for making these projects made possible through their STARS Residencies grants.
Turkey Hill Middle School posters: