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December 11, 2023

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is developing an online tool to support stormwater management and pollution mitigation in the urbanized Neponset River Watershed in Massachusetts.

Including the southside of Boston and extending south to Foxborough, the Neponset River basin is home to more than 330,000 people and has become increasingly contaminated from industrialization. In 2022, the Lower Neponset River was added to the Superfund National Priorities List. This designation prompted efforts, like the development of this application, to improve water quality for nearby communities, many of which are identified as environmental justice populations, or groups that are more vulnerable to environmental hazards due to limited resources.

calm river with colorful trees on both banks
A view of the Neponset River in Canton, Massachusetts, near a USGS streamgage at Greenlodge Street.

Stormwater, the river’s primary pollutant, is rainfall or snowmelt that can pick up contaminants from the ground and transport them to streams through drainage infrastructure, like pipes and culverts. USGS StreamStats is a public web application that compiles information on natural characteristics, like land elevation, so users can estimate drainage. To account for how manmade infrastructure influences the flow of water in cities, however, this new tool will integrate the drainage networks of every town in the watershed into StreamStats so users can better understand pollutant transport.

All municipalities in the watershed will be able to see the network of stormwater drainage as pipes, culverts, and drains in this new USGS StreamStats tool. The application also provides information about land cover types, like residential or commercial, so users can classify the sources of stormwater contamination. This information can help municipal officials in the watershed with pollution regulations, urban planning, drainage design and flood mitigation. Additionally, municipalities can use the application to calculate how much phosphorus enters waterbodies through stormwater networks as required by state and Federal law.

Still in the development phase, once the application is publicly available, town officials will be taught how to use tool to better prioritize stormwater management in the areas that have the largest negative impact on local water quality.

These functionalities were first added to StreamStats in the Mystic River Watershed in 2022. Expanding the tool to the Neponset River Watershed will be the second iteration of urban hydrology functionality in StreamStats in New England.


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