June 1, 2023

The State of the Palmer River


Looking at our river from the sky or from one of the scenic overlooks gives many of us a sense of place and a feeling of relaxation. It is the centerpiece of our town and provided the Sowams with everything they needed for survival. They taught the English colonists how to survive the first winter here and now we are a link in the chain of the river’s long and rich past.

Historically it is one of three rivers on the Eastern Seaboard suitable for shad and herring fish. Unfortunately, there are hardly any in the Palmer River nowadays. In 2018 the MA Division of Marine Fisheries presented a habitat assessment of the Shad Factory Pond, which stated the water quality does not meet criteria for spawning herring or shad based upon low dissolved oxygen levels, poor water clarity and high nutrient levels, to the Ground Water and Conservation Commissions. The Friends of the Palmer River will be working with them over the next year on habitat restoration in the estuary waters below the dam to try and attract these local natives, often compared to salmon, back into the river. Please join us if you’re interested!

The town recently received monies paid in reparation for pollution to the tune of $80, 000 (Sun Chronicle). Leadership must be held accountable for investing the money into the river in a meaningful way like protecting its buffer zone and wetlands, water quality testing and monitoring or preventing landscaping companies from filling their trucks up at the many “Water Supply” signs along the river crossings.

The fourth graders at Palmer River Elementary have been wading into the tributaries of the river catching macroinvertebrates to determine the health of the water this spring. We found some of the “sensitive” bugs that indicate healthy water! We also found some “tolerant” bugs like leeches that can thrive with very little dissolved oxygen in the water. The Friends have been testing the water in different sections of the river with varied results. We need more consistent monitoring so that we know which parts of the river are unhealthy and can look into the cause. The town has the resources now with the reparations money to do this work.

There was a fire at our house a couple of months ago and the fire department’s response was quick and effective! They need water to combat fires. As drought becomes more prevalent, there are concerns about water that we must all consider. We are not accustomed to dry and dangerous fire conditions…Protecting the river will ensure the fire department has the water it needs to keep us safe. Thank you RFD for your hard work and protection!

Overall our river has some areas with a healthy natural buffer remaining, which means the land adjacent to the river is not developed with agriculture, homes or golf courses. If you’ve looked at the Runnins river, you can see what a river with less buffer looks like. Taking proactive measures NOW to ensure that there will be water HERE for our children’s children is something we need to bring to the forefront of our town’s plans for the future! No water, no life.

Katy Rourke Wilson, Chair, Friends of the Palmer River.


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