North & South Rivers Watershed Association

Record Drought Hits Hard: Vanishing Streamflows Impact Fish and Wildlife

Severe water shortages forcing communities to face climate change issues, pursue stringent conservation measures.

It’s official: the summer of 2016 has been the driest on record! And while July may have been the official start of the drought, unusually dry weather has been happening since January 2015. Overall precipitation was down by over 17 inches in the past 20 months.

While the North River up to the Indian Head and the South River to Veterans’ Park Dam are tidal and little affected by low flows, upper reaches and feeder brooks have rarely been so stressed.

The low flow is caused, unfortunately, not just by minimal rain, but also high summer water use in our growing communities. Pumping draws out the groundwater that otherwise would feed streams even during dry periods. And the resulting problems are not just ecological, for fish and wildlife, but also very severe water shortages in many communities.

Impacts on fish and wildlife have been dramatic, and include:

Tack Factory Pond on Third Herring Brook, turned coffee colored with high turbidity, and was 90 degrees in early August! Downstream of the dam, the dewatered Third Herring Brook has stagnant pools of water where it crosses under River and Broadway Street.  Upstream are the Hanover and Norwell public water supply wells.

In Iron Mine Brook, a tributary to the Indian Head River, sections are dry downstream of Hanover’s wells – this brook is home to Eastern Native Brook trout which rely on cool, flowing water; but are now confined to small sections of fresh water, with little flow, low oxygen and much higher temperatures.

In Pembroke’s Herring Brook headwaters – Oldham and Furnace Ponds – which is home to the best herring run in our watershed – the young fish are held captive behind the dam unable to escape downstream to migrate to the open ocean. Furnace Pond is a water source for the City of Brockton, contributing to the low levels in the pond.

In Scituate’s water supply watershed, streamflow was cut off to the First Herring Brook in July in order to preserve the town’s dwindling water supplies. Any young herring that are in the system will have to wait until it rains to return to the ocean.

Aquatic species are able to cope with drought – after all, we have had droughts before! – but it stresses their populations and for those rivers and species already stressed due to water withdrawals, along with dams and pavement, the stress is amplified and ultimately can lead to population reduction and extinction.

What Can You Do to Save Water for People and Nature?

First, recognize that your water, whether it comes from a private or municipal well, comes from our watershed and that it is a shared resource for people and nature. All of nature depends on the top layer of water exposed or just below the surface of the land.  While we can access large stores of water underground through wells, we lower the water table when we do – which impacts surface waterbodies that rely on groundwater to feed them. We need to save water all the time – not just when there is a drought – in order to safeguard that surface water.  

Second, think about your landscape. Trying to maintain grass is the single largest consumer of household water. This year during the drought, the Town of Norwell metered a single household using 30,000 gallons a day to water their lawn – that’s more than a standard 16’ x 32’ swimming pool!  Grasses that are typical of suburbia are not native to the region and require a lot of water and feeding to maintain as green. Over the long run one of the best things you can do to reduce water consumption is to remove lawn and replace it with more native vegetation. Leave the areas where you really need turf, overseed with more drought tolerant species, and if it doesn’t rain let it go brown – it is just dormant and will come back when cooler temperatures and rain arrive. For more information on water conservation landscaping visit greenscapes.org.

Inside, your home toilets are the number one consumer of water. Check it for leaks by putting food coloring in the tank. Check the bowl in 20 minutes to see if the color leaked into the bowl, if so you may need to replace your flapper valve.

How Much Water Do You Use?

Calculate your own household consumption by taking your last water bill and use the calculator below. The state of Massachusetts recommends 65 gallons per person per day* however many people use less. In fact, in England and Australia average consumption is closer to 30-40 gallons per person per day.  

Water Use Calculator

NOTE: If your water bill is in cubic feet (CF), multiply your consumption in cubic feet by 7.48 to convert to gallons and then use the calculator below. If your consumption is in hundreds of cubic feet (CCF), then multiply by 748 and follow the calculation.

Total gallons consumed / Days in billing cycle / # of people in household = GALLONS PER PERSON PER DAY

    Bill _______________  /  ________________   /  ________________    =    _______________________

Summer is the true test – water usage tends to double in the summer. How low can you go? Are you below 65 gallons per day? Visit our new WaterSmart section of our website for more ways you can save.

* Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection


Stay Up-to-Date