Improving the Health of the Chebacco Lake Watershed and Alewife Brook

Seaside Sustainability Convenes Stakeholders to Address Watershed Wildlife and Water Quality

Seaside Sustainability, a nonprofit based in Gloucester, MA with a mission to protect coastal waters through education and action, has convened an array of stakeholders to begin improvement efforts of Chebacco Lake. The Chebacco Lake watershed is an area in Essex County, MA, that is home to five ponds and Chebacco Lake. Chebacco Lake is a 209-acre body of water that is classified as a Class B water resource by the state of Massachusetts, signifying that it is a designated habitat for the protection of aquatic life. It is fed by eight small brooks and its primary outlet is Alewife Brook. 

The watershed lies within parts of five towns: Essex, Hamilton, Wenham, Manchester, and Beverly. Since Chebacco Lake is an important home for aquatic life and supplies drinking water for several towns; protecting the water quality is of primary importance. “The Chebacco lake watershed is a critical resource for five towns,” said Alan McCoy, Chairperson of Seaside Sustainability’s board, “and our combined stewardship is key to maintaining and improving its health.” 

Beginning in the spring of 2021, this group will begin efforts to improve the overall health of the Chebacco Lake watershed and Alewife Brook. The first issue to be addressed will be improving the water flow of Alewife Brook by reducing plant growth that has clogged parts of the brook’s channel. Alewife Brook is a vital path for river herring that leads to Essex Bay and the North Atlantic Ocean. Passage through the brook has become increasingly more challenging as a result of low water levels, increased siltation, vegetation growing in the channel, and the presence of beaver activity. The dedication and hard work of all members of this restoration project will ensure that Chebacco Lake remains a vital herring spawning ground and that the health of the entire watershed will be improved. 

Seaside acknowledges Senator Tarr’s office for organizing our group meetings, Representative Hill for reaching out to the legislators to get the project started and Town of Essex for DPW support and applying to the Conservation Commission. “The partnership of Seaside Sustainability is important to the efforts of the legislative delegation, local officials, the Chebacco Lake & Watershed Association, and citizens as we continue to work to restore Alewife Brook and the Chebacco Lake Watershed to a state of good health and sustainability,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr. “Although the Town of Essex, the association and others have taken steps to achieve these common goals with state legislative support over the past several years, there is much more to be done, and a pressing need to move forward as soon as possible.” 

“A scary thing I learned when I moved to Chebacco Lake over 30 years ago is that there’s no steward ensuring the health of lakes, streams, and watersheds in the Commonwealth, or their safe use for recreation,” said Dave Lash, board member of the Chebacco Lake & Watershed Association. “We have lots of regulatory agencies but their jurisdictions are narrow and not holistic. Case in point: despite regulation, we’ve lost over 99 percent of the alewife that have been migrating into Chebacco Lake for thousands of years. These river herring are not only crucial to the watershed; they’re the foundation of our saltwater fisheries.”

The Chebacco region was inhabited by the Peoples of Agawan known as the Pawtucket prior to and during European presence. From the eighteenth to twentieth-century Chebacco Lake was known for its ice harvesting and Chebacco ice was shipped worldwide. The first airplane flight in New England took off and landed on the ice of Chebacco in February of 1910 and the flight is commemorated by a plaque near the Hamilton town beach. After the turn of the twentieth century, Chebacco Lake became a recreational destination, with the creation of Centennial Grove in Essex, where recently the movie Grown Ups was filmed. 

Seaside Sustainability is collaborating with numerous stakeholders including the Chebacco Lake Watershed Association, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, representatives from the conservation commissions of and town governments of Essex and Hamilton, Gordon College, the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust, The Ipswich River Watershed Association, and the Parker-Ipswich-Essex Rivers Restoration Partnership. “The partnership with Seaside Sustainability is exciting. Together, we can deliver the stewardship that’s been long needed by combining the local knowledge and community connections of the lake association with Seaside Sustainability’s regional expertise and resources,” said Lash. 

The success of the combined efforts of Seaside Sustainability and other stakeholders will rely on public support and engagement. It is vital to harness energy and efforts from volunteers in the watershed communities. Seaside Sustainability is optimistic that with this network of organizational partnerships along with public awareness and participation, the Chebacco Lake watershed will become healthier and more sustainable with a thriving alewife population. “It is exciting that Seaside Sustainability and the Chebacco Lake and Watershed Association have joined forces to forward progress on the cleanup of Alewife Brook,” said Robyn Kanter, the Vice President of the Chebacco Lake and Watershed Association. “This is a substantial project that benefits so many. Driving the effort, Seaside Sustainability has brought together a diverse group of environmental and education organizations, local and state politicians and departments, and concerned citizens to form a coalition that will help ensure success.” 

Seaside Sustainability, located in Gloucester, Massachusetts, was founded in 2017. Seaside Sustainability is a non-profit with the mission to protect our coastal waters through education and action. Seaside Sustainability continues to dedicate its resources and efforts to instigate action and change in the community. 

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