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Water Quality Monitoring Program


Check-out here the data results resulting from this crucial and necessary effort!



This program’s focus is to collect baseline water quality data including nutrient and fecal coliform data. Also, to provide a comprehensive water quality and water quantity evaluation of the Parker River main stem and its tributaries.  The Parker River Clean Water Association’s volunteers collect samples that are lab tested for fecal coliform, nitrates, phosphates, dissolved oxygen and turbidity. Monitors fill out field data sheets which includes information on river conditions and flow data from sites throughout the watershed. The data produced will be used to:

  • Provide baseline data for future comparison as the watershed develops

  • Increase awareness of the connection between land activities and water quality and quantity

  • Identify problem areas for management solutions or technological improvements




































                                                                        Parker River Water Quality Monitoring sites

The ecological importance of the Parker River and Plum Island Sound is recognized nationally and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has recognized the importance of Plum Island Sound by designating it as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).  Non-point source pollution poses a significant threat to this ACEC as the Parker River is ranked as being moderately sensitive to nitrogen and ranked in the upper tier of estuaries with potential for eutrophication.  High concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria in the river have permanently closed shellfish beds and also periodically closed shellfish beds after rain events.  These non-point source pollution problems are likely to increase as the rural/suburban towns of the Parker River watershed are among the fastest growing in the state.



Water depth and velocity are measured in order to be able to predict the amount of water flowing through the river system.  A watershed collects all of the water that falls on a certain geographic area and channels it through small streams, into the river and out to sea.In natural systems this occurs uninhibited.  

In a system such as the Parker River, development can create large areas of impervious cover.   Private wells and public water supplies draw off millions of gallons of water every day, which has caused areas of the Parker River and Mill River to run dry.  Some river segments may carried from its originating watershed  and discharged into another watershed.   These phenomena can have detrimental effects on the natural habitat.


                     DISSOLVED OXYGEN



Dissolved oxygen (DO) is the amount of oxygen that is dissolved into the water.  This oxygen is important for fish and other aquatic animals, as they remove the oxygen dissolved in the water to use for respiration.  Low dissolved oxygen content in the water has the same effect on aquatic animals that it does on humans who encounter low oxygen levels in the air (such as at extreme high altitudes like Mount Everest). Low oxygen, whether inhaled by lungs or gills stresses bodily functions, and animals either move to new location or die.  Natural decomposition is major factor in the oxygen content of water.  Microorganisms need oxygen in order to break down all of the natural dead plant and animal material in the water.   Human influence on an ecosystem in the form of excess nutrient run-off from improperly functioning septic systems or run-off from fertilized agricultural fields and residential lawns promotes excess plant growth, specifically algae, which then dies need to be broken down.  With so much decomposition occurring, the microorganisms use a lot of oxygen, causing the levels of oxygen in the water to drop.  This often leads to DO levels low enough to cause fish to die or move away from the area.


E. coli

Lakes and streams usually contain a variety of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, and algae. Most of these occur naturally and have little impact on human health. Some microorganisms, however, can cause disease in humans. Diseases most commonly result from certain bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that live in the gastrointestinal tract and are shed in the feces of warm-blooded animals.  

Water quality standards are the basis for determining whether or not a certain level of a contaminant such as E. coli is acceptable. Different levels of a contaminant are allowed for different water uses, such as swimming, boating, fishing or drinking.

E.coli can come from the wastes of any warm-blooded animal, including humans, cattle, hogs, and many other animals including wildlife. Fecal wastes from humans are the greatest health concern since they carry the most human pathogens. Several of the diseases mentioned above, however, can be transmitted from animals to humans.

Human wastes can enter water from improperly functioning septic systems, improperly treated sewage, discharges from boats, sewage sludge applied to the land if not properly treated, and in rare instances from a sick person (usually a small child in diapers) swimming. Modern septic systems are designed to discharge wastes to the soil, where pathogens and other contaminants are filtered by the soil before the water enters groundwater or streams.

In some areas, especially where there are few people, wildlife can be a significant contributor. The most direct contributors are waterfowl, although deer, raccoons, and other wildlife living anywhere in the watershed can contribute to bacteria levels in streams. In urban areas, pet wastes can be washed off streets and other impervious surfaces and flow through storm drains directly to lakes and streams.



pH is a measurement of the acidity of the water caused by hydrogen ion concentration.  The pH scale ranges from 1.0 to 14.0. , where 1.0 is the most acidic and 14.0 is the least acidic, or what is called "basic."  A pH value of 7.0 is the mid-point on the scale and is called neutral.  Most organisms prefer a pH between 6.5 and 8.0.  pH values out of this range can stress the organisms.  




Turbidity is a measure of the clarity of the water, or how clear the water is.  The Turbidity of the water depends on the amount, size and type of particles suspended in the water.  Suspended particles can be anything from clay and silt to algae and microbes.  Water which has a lot of suspended particles (high turbidity) does not allow the sunlight to penetrate easily.  This  slows photosyntheses and plant growth, and can result in low dissolved oxygen (DO) levels.  This in turn affects fish which need DO for respiration.  High levels of suspended materials can also clog and inhibit the respiration of fish and shellfish, as they bring water through their gills or shells.  As the suspended material settles, it may cover fish eggs and/or insect larvae, inhibiting or stunting growth.  Sources of suspended material and high turbidity include soil erosion, agricultural runoff, road runoff, and waste discharge.



Fluctuations in water temperature other than normal seasonal  change can affect all aquatic life  Fish for example are particularly vulnerable.  Each species of fish has a specific optimal range of temperature where it can survive without stress.  If the environment in which a species of fish that is adapted to certain conditions changes and higher or lower temperatures occur, the result could be devastating or fatal  Alewife and Brook Trout are species of fish found in the Parker River and her tributaries. They prefer temperature ranges from 52 degrees F to 75 degrees F.  

Humans can cause changes in water temperature a number of ways.  The most prevalent cause of temperature change in the Parker River Watershed is the removal of the shading foliage from the riverbanks.  This happens often with an increase in development.  Other causes include damming the river to make lakes and ponds, and piping colder storm water directly into the river.



Site#             Site Name             Site Description

02                                     PR02                      Parker River @ Bailey Lane, Georgetown

03                                      PR03                        Parker River @ Mill Street, Georgetown

04                                  PB04                        Penn Brook @ Mill Street, Georgetown

05                                  PB05                        Penn Brook @ Georgetown HS


10                                  PR10                        Parker River @ Central Street, Byfield

11                                  PR11                        Parker River @ Newbury Town Landing

12                                  LR12                        Parker Street/Scotland Road, Newburyport

13                                  LR13                        Little River @ Hanover Street, Newbury


16                                  MR16                        Mill River @ Glenn Street, Rowley

17                                  MR17                        Route 1/Elm Street, South Byfield

18                                 OPB18                        Ox Pasture Brook @ Fenno Drive, Rowley

19                                 OPB19                        Ox Pasture Brook @ Central Street, Rowley

20                                  RR20                          Rowley River @ Rowley Town Landing

21                                  BB21                          Independent, Rowley

Water Testing Results over the Years.

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