Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate & Environmental Stewards.

The Ipswich River Watershed Association is a group of citizens, scientists, businesses and communities concerned about the health of the Ipswich River and its watershed.

Our aim is to protect nature and make sure there is enough clean, safe, reliable water for people and wildlife. We have been the voice of the Ipswich River since 1977. A small, membership-based, nonprofit organization, Ipswich River Watershed Association has accomplished a great deal since its inception.

In 2007, we established a new headquarters, Riverbend, on a beautiful 20-acre riverfront property on Route 1A in Ipswich. With trails for walking and wildlife observation open to the public, Riverbend also has a dock on the river and a fleet of kayaks and canoes available for our members to use.

Our property is also a model for water and energy efficiency and low-impact development. We have an electric vehicle charging station powered by solar panels, a green roof, rain gardens and permeable pavers. Inside our office, we have highly efficient water fixtures and appliances. We are open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., for the public to view and learn about our sustainability features.

The Ipswich River has its headwaters in Burlington, Wilmington and Andover, and then travels 40 meandering miles (about 26 miles as the crow flies), with 45 streams and tributaries contributing to its flow. The river meets the ocean at the Plum Island Sound at the back side of Plum Island near Sandy Point and Crane Beach. The Ipswich River estuary is part of the 20,000-acre Great Marsh ecosystem.

The Ipswich watershed is home to approximately 160,000 people and includes all or portions of 21 towns. The river and its groundwater and reservoirs supply drinking water to more than 350,000 people and businesses in 14 communities, including Beverly, Boxford, Danvers, Hamilton, Ipswich, Lynn, Lynnfield, Middleton, North Reading, Peabody, Salem, Topsfield, Wenham and Wilmington.

In 2011, the Ipswich River Watershed Association convened the Parker-Ipswich-Essex Rivers Partnership (PIE-Rivers), a regional network of organizations, governmental agencies and communities working to promote healthy rivers and ecosystems in the three coastal rivers of northeastern Massachusetts.

We continue to administer this partnership, which in 2013 helped to secure over $3 million from the federal Hurricane Sandy Grant Program to support a multiyear, multipronged set of restoration and resiliency projects throughout the Great Marsh watershed.

This project funded the development of the Great Marsh Coastal Adaptation Plan (www.greatmarshresiliency.org). Together with the National Wildlife Federation, we worked with municipal task forces from the six coastal towns, Salisbury, Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, Ipswich and Essex, to complete an analysis of community vulnerabilities to climate change and a plan for recommended actions the communities and its partners can take to increase their resiliency and adapt to weather-related impacts.

Since the completion of the Great Marsh plan in 2018, our PIE-Rivers Municipal Services Program has continued to assist communities’ resiliency and sustainability efforts, providing data for communities’ municipal vulnerability workshops and supporting groups like the Newbury Vulnerability Committee and the Newburyport Sustainability Committee. 

Another important component of our work focuses on water quality: monitoring the health of our river and streams through more than 50 trained citizen-scientists, administering a water quality database analyzing trends, conducting an annual herring count on the fish ladder at the Ipswich Mills Dam, and coordinating volunteer “stream teams” that work to protect and restore the river and its tributaries through local action.

We recently received a grant to fund additional water quality monitoring assistance for the all-volunteer Parker River Clean Water Association and the Chebacco Lake & Watershed Association in Essex. 

The Ipswich River Watershed Association is also a founding member of the Greenscapes North Shore Coalition (www.greenscapes.org), a multipartner outreach effort that promotes water conservation and protection.

We work with local communities to educate citizens and professionals about landscaping practices (particularly irrigation and chemical use) that have less impact on the environment. We also run a Greenscapes school program that educates more than 2,000 students across Essex County each year.

There’s a lot to learn and love about the Ipswich River! Our events provide opportunities to enjoy the river and make a difference through our watershed and the PIE-Rivers region.

We offer paddling trips (including a free Beginner Paddler Summer Series), environmentally friendly gardening workshops, educational programs, wildlife walks, river cleanups and more.

Volunteers are the backbone of many of our programs and we are always looking for new volunteers who are interested in making a difference and getting involved. Learn more at www.ipswichriver.org.

Kristen Grubbs is an environmental planner who lives in Newbury.