Water Closet forJanuary 23, 2015
In Middleton three streets, Boston, River and South Main, intersect to form an equilateral triangle with 1 ½ mile sides. Punchard’s Brook Watershed cradled in a great curve of the Ipswich River drains roughly one thousand acres.[pullquote]”All along the river, tributaries like Punchards are bringing in naturally treated water that is also cooler due to the shade of trees along their banks.” [/pullquote]Over the last half century subdivisions grew inward from the three streets until they encountered wetlands along the brook. Hundreds of places shaped as rough triangles, polygons, and even tree shapes, are found throughout the suburbs of Boston and beyond. These wet areas
were once used as pastures, hayfields, gardens, dumps, and industrial sites. Many were filled until the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act was passed 1972. Subsequently protection became stronger especially when the Rivers Protection Act was added in 1996. Rivers and perennial streams now have protective buffers strongly restricting development within 200 feet of either bank.
Last week an old Closeteer who lives in this Middleton triangle decided to hike from the headwaters of Punchard’s Brook to the Ipswich River; he hadn’t done so in a decade. Such hikes aren’t easy; there are no longer open pastures and gardens along stream banks. The wetlands and floodplain flanking Punchard’s Brook and its unnamed tributaries have given rise to interesting jungles of several types. The Closeteer decided to go with the flow from St. Agnes Church near Middleton Center down swales and above slowly moving ground water to the brook and then on to the river. Rain and melt water from the church’s roof and parking lot go into a swale and then flow southeasterly to a wide wetland. The runoff drains into the ground or to long ago manmade ditches behind the houses along Boston Street and west of the Middleton Golf Course off South Main Street. Punchards Brook’s wetlands and ditches are largely red maple swamps that rarely feel the feet of people. With lots of essential water, wildlife thrives in these long winding refuges even in sight of buildings. Since people, farmers, contractors, loggers and others, no longer visit, a few of the white pines and oaks on fringing uplands are three to four feet across and very tall. The lone hiker, at points near developments stuck his walking stick into the running brook still open despite two weeks of cold January weather. He sniffed the wet end for signs of escaped sewage and detected none. Just a generation ago this often wasn’t the case. The Massachusetts Title V septic system regulations and administering Boards of Health are doing their jobs. New septic systems are no longer allowed in hydric soils; soils saturated, ponded, or flooded a significant portion of the growing season.
The largest subdivision the lone hiker passed was Brigadoon built in a hurry in the early 1960s before regulations or much oversight. Many of its houses’ septic systems were cess-pools built in wet areas. During major storms, runoff from roofs, driveways, and streets poured south and collected in Brigadoon’s lower end flooding septic systems and cellars. A half-mile of large ditches 3 to 5 feet deep and 12 feet wide were torn through the surrounding red maple swamps to increase the flow in the overwhelmed tributaries of Punchard’s Brook. The Closeteer walked along one through a jungle of bushes, briars, and fallen trees.
The good news is that these undulations so crudely carved in the land have become good habitat for animals who find shelter among the diverse growth and hummocks. In the thin blanket of snow that had fallen the night before there were many tracks. In time the trees, ever larger, will shade some of the lower plants out.
The Closeteer carefully continued eastward on the brook’s bank. South of Wennerberg Wildlife Area, 16 acres just south of Park Avenue, the floodplain widens out. Beneath the red maples are faint traces of old drainage ditches. He guessed this rich bottom-land had been used for crops tolerant of wet soils. In the level soft ground the brook’s channel meanders. Its bottom is beige sand firm in footing as he had learned while wading on past visits. The water flowing over the bottom is now clear. Healthy well vegetated swamps act as filters, hence the importance of having wide buffers on both sides of streams. The River Protection Act so provides.
Soon two Richardson fields, separated by a large impressive stand of white pines came into view on the north side of the brook. To the south is a subdivision that had been largely kept from the brook by a 200-foot wide buffer. After another development to the north on Brookside Road, Punchard’s Brook passes into a large culvert under River Street and Natsue Way the entrance to the Riverside Industrial Park and the Middleton Transfer Station or “dump” to us old timers. The brook then goes through a dense thicket of invasive multiflora roses on the edge of a cow pasture east of River Street. From the pasture it soon widens into a marsh dominated by button bushes on both sides of a partially submerged and untraveled section of Lonergan Road now under Ipswich River water much of the year due to beaver dams. In this scrub-shrub floodplain Punchard’s Brook’s channel disappears. Herons of several species often grace this area in season where tributary and river waters converge.
The water since leaving St. Agnes had traveled two plus miles. While it moves fairly fast in the stream channels it seeps slowly through the swamps’ duff and topsoil. For the old man it may have been a four mile slog if you count all the ups, downs and arounds. His legs complained of at least six.
However, his mind like the filtered water was refreshed. He had seen a part of town not far from houses and roads “where the wild things are” to take from Maurice Sendak.
All along the river, tributaries like Punchards are bringing in naturally treated water that is also cooler due to the shade of trees along their banks. In the past sunny pastures sloped right down to the water. Trout like cooler water, maybe they will be in our brooks again some day. We’re told some native brookies are found in Fish Brook, Boxford.
We’ll end with our usual plea urging you to get out and visit our wilder places not far from home. The ways are rough; the sights and challenges rewarding. President Theodore Roosevelt played a family game that he led in Washington, at Oyster Bay, and on even rougher lands. A goal was set some distance away. Participants had to beeline to it even if it involved pushing through hedges, climbing cliffs and walls or wading pools with clothes on. The president made family members and even intimidated guests follow his lead. He ended successful beelines, of course, with “bully!” We Stream Teamers cannot order, but we can suggest and urge. Pick one of the Ipswich’s dozen or so tributaries and walk close to, or in it, from headwaters to river or vice versa. If you do, please let us know the time and tributary. At our next meeting you will be recognized with a chorus of “bully!”
WATER RESOURCE AND CONSERVATION INFORMATION
FOR MIDDLETON, BOXFORD AND TOPSFIELD
|Precipitation Data* for Month of:||Oct||Nov||Dec||Jan|
|30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches||4.40||4.55||4.12||3.40|
|2014 Central Watershed Actual||8.09||4.60||8.45||2.2 as of 1/20**|
Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Jan 20, 2015 Normal . . . 53 CFS Current Rate . . . Unavailable
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Dec.
**Middleton Stream Team is source of actual precipitation data for Jan.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.