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Publications—Water-Resources Investigations Report 01–4161

Assessment of Habitat, Fish Communities, and Streamflow Requirements for Habitat Protection, Ipswich River, Massachusetts, 1998-99

By David S. Armstrong, Todd A. Richards, and Gene W. Parker

U.S. Geological Survey Water–Resources Investigations Report 01–4161

Prepared in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; and the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

This report is available in Portable Document Format (PDF):

Cover (370 KB) - 1 page

Inside cover (15 KB) - 3 pages

Contents (118 KB) - 4 pages

Body of Report (2.7 MB) - 72 pages

Appendix A (1.1 MB) - 39 pages

Appendixes B-D (123 KB)- 40 pages


The relations among stream habitat, fish communities, and hydrologic conditions were investigated in the Ipswich River Basin in northeastern Massachusetts. Data were assessed from 27 sites on the mainstem of the Ipswich River from July to September 1998 and from 10 sites on 5 major tributaries in July and August 1999. Habitat assessments made in 1998 determined that in a year with sustained streamflow for most of the summer, the Ipswich River contains diverse, high-quality aquatic habitat. Channel types are predominantly low gradient glides, pools, and impoundments, with a sandy streambed and a forest or shrub riparian zone. Features that provide fish habitat are located mostly along stream margins; these features include overhanging brush, undercut banks, exposed roots, and woody debris. These habitat features decrease in availability to aquatic communities with declining streamflows and generally become unavailable after streamflows drop to the point where the edge of water recedes from the stream banks.

The mainstem and tributaries were sampled to determine fish species composition, relative abundance, and length frequency. Fish sampling indicates that the fish community in the Ipswich River is currently a warm-water fish community dominated by pond-type fish. However, historical temperature data, and survival of stocked trout in the mainstem Ipswich into late summer of 1998, indicate that the Ipswich River potentially could support cold-water fish species if adequate flows are maintained. Dominant fish species sampled in the mainstem Ipswich River were redfin pickerel (Esox americanus), American eel (Anguilla rostrata), and pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), which together represented 41, 22, and 10 percent, respectively, of 4,745 fish sampled. The fish communities of the mainstem and tributaries contained few fluvial-dependent or fluvial-specialist species (requiring flow), and were dominated by macrohabitat generalists (tolerant of low-flow, warm-water, and ponded conditions). In comparison to a nearby river (Lamprey River, N.H.), and a reference fish community developed for inland New England streams, the Ipswich fish community would be expected to have appreciably higher percentages of fluvial-dependent and fluvial-specialist species were streamflows restored.

Four riffle sites on the mainstem of the Ipswich River were identified as critical habitat areas because they are among the first sites to exhibit fish-passage problems or to dry during low flows. A watershed-scale precipitation-runoff model previously developed for the Ipswich River was used to simulate streamflows at these four sites for the period 196195 under no withdrawals (for water supply) and 1991 land use to evaluate habitat suitability under conditions that approximate the natural flow conditions. These simulated flows were used to calculate streamflow requirements by the Tennant and New England Aquatic-Base-Flow methods. Stream channels were surveyed at the critical riffle sites, and Water Surface Profile models were used to simulate streamflows and hydraulic characteristics needed for determining streamflow requirements by use of the Wetted-Perimeter and R2Cross methods. Normalized by drainage area to units of cubic feet per second per square mile, these methods yielded the following streamflow requirements: 0.50 cubic feet per second per square mile for the Tennant 30-percent QMA method, 0.42 cubic feet per second per square mile for the wetted-perimeter value necessary to maintain wetted perimeter at three altered riffle sites, 0.42 cubic feet per second per square mile for the R2Cross value required to maintain R2Cross hydraulic criteria at a natural riffle site, and 0.34 cubic feet per second per square mile for the aquatic-base-flow median of monthly mean flows for August for the simulated 196195 period under no withdrawals and 1991 land use. The mean streamflow requirement determined from these four methods is 0.42 cubic feet per second per square mile. This flow would represent an average flow-exceedence value for the six study sites of about 77 percent under simulated flows with no withdrawals. For these flows, the 70-, 80-, and 90-percent exceedence flows averaged 0.59, 0.37, and 0.21 cubic feet per second per square mile, respectively, and the 7-day, 10-year low flow statistic at the two gaged sites averaged 0.08 cubic feet per second per square mile. Simulated flows under no withdrawals were used to determine monthly mean flows and other flow statistics used in the Range of Variability Approach to define a flow regime that mimics the river's natural flow regime.

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Suggested Citation: Armstrong, D.S., Richards, T.A., and Parker, G.W., 2001, Assessment of Habitat, Fish Communities, and Streamflow Requirements for Habitat Protection, Ipswich River, Massachusetts, 1998-99: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4161, 72 p.

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