The North Coastal Watersheds (NCW) encompasses a growing
coastal region north of
Many people only envision the land divided by its political
boundaries, such as the states of
The North Coastal area is contained within two ecoregions;
the Southern New England Coastal Plains and Hills (from Salem Sound northward)
The NCW has been described as a study in contrasts, marked
by extensive areas of open space, rural towns and highly urbanized communities
with all or portions of 27 communities dispersed over its 168 square miles. The
glacial history of the area combined with the low relief has resulted in the
formation of numerous wetlands, lakes and ponds and swamps along the main river
valleys through out the watershed. The topography of the watershed is
characterized by small hills, which reach altitudes of about 350 feet above sea
level, and low strea
Barrier islands and salt marshes: Starting in the northern
reach of the watershed, portions of the extensive Hampton and Seabrook Marshes
Rocky peninsulas: The predominant shoreform of the North Shore
coastline consists of rocky peninsulas interspersed with embayments, pockets of
salt marsh, and estuaries (drowned river valleys) fronted offshore by rock
Lakes and ponds: Within the NCW boundaries there are a total of
85 lakes and ponds, 39 of which are greater than 10 acres.
Water quality: The DEP DWM has conducted water quality surveys
in the NCW since 1975, most recently in 1997-1998. The previous surveys were
conducted in 1987-1988 for
· Water chemistry measurements and detailed nutrient analyses at river and marine stations on 18 dates
· Survey of soft-shell clam habitat
· Summarized available catch data for recreational and commercial fisheries
· Limited comparisons were made of the study results to the 1965 DMF estuarine study of Salem Sound.
Resource industries: The
abundance of open beaches, coastal wetlands and harbors are used by residents
and non-residents in support of a host of outdoor recreational activities
including swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, and hunting. The dominant resource industries include commercial
fishing for finfish, lobsters and shellfish particularly within upper
One of the NCW’s foremost assets is its “quality of life.” This asset is derived from the unique juxtaposition of historic towns, intact open spaces and neighborhoods with densely populated urban areas. However, in a recent survey, NCW residents responded that:
· The most important problem facing their community today is development and “sprawl” (42%);
· “Too much development” is the primary concern (44%), especially around traffic issues (30%);
· The quality of life has gotten worse in the last 3 years (46% “worse” versus 21% “better”).
After nearly 400 years of intensive human influence, the NCW’s resources, while not always pristine, provide home to nearly 500,000 people, support vibrant communities with clean drinking water and a diversity of natural, historic and recreational opportunities. Today the character and resources of this watershed are under increasing threat from “low density sprawl.” Habitat fragmentation is considered by many to be one of the most serious threats to maintaining biological diversity. The watershed’s natural resources are increasingly being required to serve a multitude of conflicting uses.
Subregions of the NCW face unique sets of issues. Addressing
the numerous, diverse and often competing problems across the watershed
requires a range of solutions. In the non-sewered areas primarily to the north
· controlling and managing growth;
· concerns with enforcement of regulations controlling subsurface waste disposal (Title V);
· excessive demands on local water supplies; and
· closed shellfish beds.
In the Salem Sound area concerns are primarily:
· nonpoint source pollution on Salem Sound’s streams and coastal waters
degraded recreational and commercial coastal
resources, i.e., contami
· maintaining and enhancing open natural spaces, i.e., estuaries, stream buffers and forests;
· protecting and conserving the drinking water supply;
· fostering sustainable growth and redevelopment.
Problems facing the
· water shortages;
low flows in the
· Combined Sewer Overflows; and
· closure of public beaches due to bacterial contamination.
The primary concerns in the
· controlling and managing growth;
· enforcement of regulations controlling subsurface waste disposal (Title V);
· localized flooding and coastal erosion; and
· the closure of shellfish beds.
The North Coastal Watersheds are a place “where people have
always wanted to live.” Since its earliest beginnings people have moved into
and occupied the land. For thousands of years, the relationship of the Native
Pre-industrial agriculture: A dramatic change in land use
occurred in the 1620s with the arrival of European settlers who were attracted
in part by the area’s abundant and varied natural resources. This period saw
the replacement of the traditional native seasonal village system, with its
shifting agriculture and its hunter/gatherer activities, to permanent villages
employing agricultural practices that raised crops and managed domesticated
animals. Ultimately, English property systems encouraged colonists to regard
the products of the land and sea, not to mention the land itself, as
commodities. Over time as the population of colonists increased, the resources
in their immediate reach became depleted. However there existed a seemingly
endless bounty of new and unexploited resources. The rural economy of
Conservation: During this same period of industrialization, the
Suburbanization: While the
Sprawl: A host of new changes and threats are currently
presenting themselves. Often referred to
as “sprawl,” unplanned growth results in a decentralized and incoherent pattern
of development that consumes large amounts of open space, overburdens existing
infrastructure and resources, and damages our environment. Between 1950 and
1990, the population of
· the destruction and fragmentation of important wildlife habitat;
· increases in traffic and air pollution;
· water supply degradation due to polluted runoff from paved surfaces and disturbed soils;
· water shortages in our rivers, streams, ponds and aquifers as groundwater recharge areas are developed; and
· an increase in local taxes to pay for greater infrastructure such as sewer lines and school buildings.
Clearly, sprawl is a direct threat to the quality of our water and air, the beauty of our landscape and the character of our communities. It also jeopardizes our long-term economic well-being by squandering natural resources needed to support economic development while increasing the cost of infrastructure and community services. As housing tracts and strip malls replace open spaces and critical wildlife habitats, resource-based industries, such as farming, forestry, fishing, tourism, and recreation also suffer. Ironically, as the impacts of sprawl accumulate, communities may begin to react negatively to growth proposals and foster “anti-growth” sentiments in which innovative, appropriately sited and economically beneficial development projects are spurned or discouraged. Our natural resources are limited and physically finite yet are increasingly being required to serve a multitude of conflicting and competing uses. The key to protecting the NCW’s exceptional natural and cultural heritage is ongoing interaction between environmental stewards, government representatives, and the general public.
Formerly, EOEA’s Massachusetts Watershed Initiative (MWI)
would have overseen the implementation of the Action Plan. With the dissolution
of that Initiative, implementation will be accomplished in a more decentralized
manner – primarily via local watershed groups, with some oversight and input
from EOEA and other Watershed Team representatives. For the NCW, the Watershed
Team still meets (on a monthly basis at the Mass Audubon headquarters in
Despite the organizational changes at EOEA, the principles of watershed management are still adhered to by EOEA and the continuing development of watershed based action plans underscores that commitment. The ultimate goal, the improvement of the environmental health of all 27 watersheds, is just as achievable today as at any other time. The principle of shared responsibility for our watershed health was a key element of the Initiative and remains critical to the success of any watershed based action plan. This watershed action plan is designed to outline those priorities for adoption not only by government organizations but businesses and private citizens as well.
The Initiative achieved a major milestone by bringing together local citizens, government representatives and active environmental organizations. These stakeholders' continuing interaction provide testimony to their commitment for watershed health and proof that people can work together to face the watershed issues they share. Moving forward on their recommendations made in this Plan will prove their ability to make significant improvements without the need for continuing state intervention.
Many funding programs, sponsored by the Commonwealth and others, remain to support these local efforts – details appear in Appendix G. EOEA remains committed to improving and supporting watershed health throughout the Commonwealth. More details concerning the previous functioning of the Massachusetts Watershed Initiative appear in Appendix A1. It is the intent of this document to be utilized as a strategic planning document for the North Coastal Watersheds Team and its constituent members for calendar years 2004-2008.
The priority project list represents the Watershed Team’s
consensus judgment on projects that should receive prioritized funding through
the various funding mechanisms available to local watershed groups. The goal is
to facilitate locally based problem identification and problem solving and
1. Open Space: Foster Sustainable Development (people-oriented).
2. Habitat: Conserve habitat and wildlife (nature-oriented).
3. Water Quality: Improve water quality and water-related human health.
4. Water Quantity: Better water management / flood control.
5. Recreation: Foster recreational use of natural resources and economic growth related to recreation.
6. Outreach: Local capacity building, outreach, and education.