The upper Charles River basin, located 30 miles southwest of Boston, Massachusetts, is experiencing water shortages during the summer. Towns in the basin have instituted water-conservation programs and water-use bans to reduce summertime water use. During July through October, streamflow in the Charles River and its tributaries regularly falls below 0.50 cubic foot per second per square mile, the minimum streamflow used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as its Aquatic Base Flow standard for maintaining healthy freshwater ecosystems.
To examine how human water use could be changed to mitigate these water shortages, a numerical ground-water flow model was modified and used in conjunction with response coefficients and optimization techniques. Streamflows at 10 locations on the Charles River and its tributaries were determined under various water-use scenarios and climatic conditions. A variety of engineered solutions to the water shortages were examined for their ability to increase water supplies and summertime streamflows.
Results indicate that although human water use contributes to the problem of low summertime streamflows, human water use is not the only, or even the primary, cause of low flows in the basin. The lowest summertime streamflows increase by 12 percent but remain below the Aquatic Base Flow standard when all public water-supply pumpage and wastewater flows in the basin are eliminated in a simulation under average climatic conditions. Under dry climatic conditions, the same measures increase the lowest average monthly streamflow by 95 percent but do not increase it above the Aquatic Base Flow standard.
The most promising water-management strategies to increase streamflows and water supplies, based on the study results, include wastewater recharge to the aquifer, altered management of pumping well schedules, regional water-supply sharing, and water conservation. In a scenario that simulated towns sharing water supplies, streamflow in the Charles River as it exits the basin increased by 18 percent during July through September and an excess water-supply capacity of 13.4 cubic feet per second, above and beyond average use, would be available to all towns in the basin. These study results could help water suppliers and regulators evaluate strategies for balancing ground-water development and streamflow reductions in the basin.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Evaluation of Strategies for Balancing Water Use and Streamflow Reductions in the Upper Charles River Basin, Eastern Massachusetts