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NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. -  A new tool developed by the U.S. Geological Survey to help visualize stormwater drainage and estimate pollutant inputs in Massachusetts’s highly urbanized Mystic River watershed is now available online.

The Mystic River watershed contains more than 600,000 residents spread across 21 municipalities, 19 of which contain environmental justice populations, or communities disproportionately exposed to environmental risks and pollutants. Pollution from urban development and industrialization has adversely affected the watershed in recent years. Stormwater is one contributing factor to the pollution because it can transport pollutants through streams and infrastructure, such as pipes and culverts.

The new USGS Mystic River Basin StreamStats tool lets users see where drainage infrastructure is located throughout the watershed, giving insight on how water moves through multiple pathways while providing a more accurate understanding of stormwater transport, said Alana Spaetzel, project lead and a hydrologist with the USGS New England Water Science Center. The tool also shows different land cover types, such as residential and commercial areas, so users can see what is located where stormwater originates and get a better idea of potential pollution sources.

A major advantage of this tool is that it not only can help the individual needs of local municipalities, but it also covers the entire Mystic River Watershed and will help with watershed-level planning and management activities, said Spaetzel.

Additionally, the tool has the potential to be used by municipal decision makers who are required by state law to keep track of which bodies of water are at risk for high levels of specific pollutants, for example phosphorus, and identify where an intervention is needed to treat stormwater before it enters a water body, said Laura Schifman, former Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection statewide stormwater program manager.

“Municipal officials can now easily calculate how much phosphorus is entering their waterbodies with the click of a button,” said Schifman, who now works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The USGS is a part of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, an initiative that aims to coordinate resources from federal agencies and collaborate with local organizations, connect urban and metropolitan areas with their waterways and work to improve them and ensure that all individuals within the U.S. have access to safe water systems. The primary funding for this project came from the Urban Waters Federal Partnership Funds. These funds are provided by the USGS and are specifically designated to support watersheds in developed communities that have degraded waterways or are considered low-income areas and historically underserved.

The project was also carried out in cooperation with the EPA, MassDEP and local governments.

To view the Mystic River Basin StreamStats application, launch StreamStats, zoom in on the area of New England and click on “Mystic River Basin” under “Select a State/Region.”

For more detailed information on the Mystic River StreamStats application, check out the project page.

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