Rivers are only as healthy as the land in their watersheds, since water must flow over and through that land on its path to the river and then the sea. For this reason, monitoring changes in land uses is key to understanding the state of the Ipswich River.
In the Ipswich River watershed there are four different kinds of land use categories: developed (also called urban) land, wetlands, agriculture, and forests. Before colonial times, this region was almost entirely forested. During colonial times most of the forests were cleared for agriculture.
Today the conversion of natural spaces into developed, built-upon parcels without effective community planning or management to protect these spaces and community character – sprawl – is affecting the health of the Ipswich River. Sprawl developments, together with the roads and infrastructure they require, segment and eliminate wildlife habitat, increase stormwater and pollutant runoff, replace diverse ecosystems with built structures and mono-cultures such as lawns, and perhaps most important to the Ipswich River, require additional water for domestic, commercial, industrial, and landscape uses.
Consider these trends:
- Between 1980 and 2000, the population in of the watershed increased by 9 percent, yet residential land use increased by 35 percent.
- Between 1971 and 1999, the area of forested land in the Ipswich River watershed is estimated to have decreased by more than 15 percent.
- This decline in forested land included an estimated 25 percent decline in forested wetlands.
- The area of developed land has increased an estimated 20 percent since 1960.
- One area of good news is that the area of non-forested wetlands is estimated to have largely held constant since 1971.
- Developed land throughout Massachusetts now has less than half the population density (4.97 persons/acre) than it had in 1950 (11.19 persons/acre).
Read more about how development affects water in the Ipswich River.
For more information:
- IRWA’s State of the River 2003 Report (pdf) contains information about the health of the watershed including land use patterns.
- Mass Audubon published A Citizen’s Guide to Involvement in Community Planning, Land Protection, and Project Review in Massachusetts