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RRI Study

Wekepeke Brook Watershed Initiative Project

In 2008, the Rushing Rivers Institute (RRI) was hired by Nestlé Waters North America (NWNA) to study the Wekepeke Brook’s ecological status and the potential impacts of a previously proposed spring water removal in the watershed. The Wekepeke Watershed is situated in the towns of Sterling, Leominster, and Lancaster MA. The project goal was to utilize scientific and ecological methods to determine the current impacts to fish and macroinvertebrates in the system, quantify the effects of the proposed withdrawals and ultimately identify mitigation options that would improve the current habitat conditions. NWNA's investigation into the hydrogeology of the area while proposing their well siting plan generated a wealth of information that was no longer useful to the company after the plan was withdrawn. However, the company viewed this data as an opportunity to investigate potential mitigation opportunities within the watershed that would allow for the proposed water withdrawals while at the same time improving the ecological integrity of the brook to a condition better than the current status.

The 5.1 mile-long Wekepeke Brook is a typical headwater stream in central Massachusetts. In general, the stream is characterized by high amounts of ground water contributions and cold-water temperatures. A 2008 survey conducted by RRI revealed high fish densities but the species observations deviated from the expected community, which should be dominated by brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). The same was true for invertebrate fauna, which also deviated from the expected community. Our study found that the Wekepeke Brook currently undergoes temperature loading and sediment starvation directly below its three reservoirs (Heywood, Lynde and Spring Basin) and has habitat deficits related to the remnant infrastructure within the watershed.

The RRI Study determined the brook's ecological status quo, including an analysis of the hydraulic and thermal regimes, water quality, investigations of fish and invertebrate status and through the development of a physical habitat model using the MesoHABSIM technique. RRI has then tested various scenarios that compare available fish habitat under different stream flow conditions to better understand the critical flows of the brook. Now that the study is complete, its findings can be drawn upon to restore and promote the most ecologically-sound management plan for the Wekepeke Brook.


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