NEWBURY -- Too much lawn fertilizer, bacterial contamination and rising water temperatures over the past 5 years are taking a toll on the ecosystem of the Parker River watershed.
According to a water quality analysis conducted during an eight month period last year by the non-profit Parker River Clean Water Association (PRCWA), a portion of the Mill River off Elm Street in Byfield frequently tested positive for higher than normal levels of phosphate and nitrogen; water sampled from Ox Pasture Brook in Rowley showed increased readings for e.coli bacteria and lower than typical percentages of dissolved oxygen levels; and a section of the Parker River running through Georgetown had low dissolved oxygen levels, while its measures for turbidity --or how cloudy the water is -- were much higher than standard.
Other “hot spot” water samples identified to a lesser degree within the report was taken from Penn Brook in Georgetown, and Little River in Newburyport and Newbury.
The report does not indicate what the precise impact of these water problems are on the Parker River. However, PRCWA officials point out that when changes to a coastal ecosystem from runoff and other pollutants occur it can drastically diminish healthy environmental diversity, leading to loss of habitat, and significant impacts on human health, tourism and the commercial fishing industry.
During a recent interview with PRCWA officials in their office at 69 Newburyport Turnpike in Newbury, Water Quality Coordinator, Lynette Leka began by noting her surprise at how few people are even aware they are living within a watershed. “And yet everything they do contributes to it,” she said.
A watershed is defined as the geographic area that drains into a particular river. In this case, the 23-mile long Parker River has a watershed that covers 82 square miles in Essex County and includes Boxford, Georgetown, Groveland, Ipswich, Newbury, Newburyport, North Andover, Rowley and West Newbury. Little River and Mill River are major tributaries and there are also numerous lakes, ponds and reservoirs within the watershed, making the area an excellent spot for fresh water trout, ocean stripped bass and bluefish angling as well as clamming in the mud flats of Plum Island Sound.