National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project

 Go to:      NAWQA Home

Effects of Urbanization on Stream Ecosystems

Home Overview Study Design Project Data Glossary FAQs Publications Contacts

Stream with low level of urban intensity.


Stream with moderate level of urban intensity.


Stream with high level of urban intensity.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston information sheet (2 pg PDF, 2.99 Mb)

This information sheet highlights selected findings of a comprehensive assessment by the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey of the effects of urban development on stream ecosystems in nine metropolitan study areas. These are a few of the findings from the study in the Boston Metropolitan Area.

Prepared for November 30, 2012 Congressional briefing

Study design:

Thirty sites were selected with drainage basin areas between about 18 to 48 square miles (46 to 125 square kilometers) and had minimal natural variability among them. The land use gradient went primarily from forest to urban. Sites represented a broad range of urban intensity from low to high.

Landcover, urban intensity, and site locations

Time of study:

Site selection 1999.
Data collection from spring 2000 to summer 2001.

General Description:

The Boston study area is in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut in the northeastern USA. The population increased 6.7% from 1990 to 2000 in the Boston-Worcester-Lawrence, MA-NH-ME-CT Metropolitan Area and was about 5.8 million people in 2000 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

The study area is in the Northeastern Coastal Zone ecoregion (Omernik, 1987), which is characterized by low hills, forests, cropland and pasture, and urban lands and inceptisol soils (Flanagan and others, 1999). Elevation ranges from about 0 to 1,880 feet (0 to 573 meters) above sea level (U.S. Geological Survey, 2005).

The climate is cool and humid, with mean annual temperature 48 degrees Fahrenheit (8.7 degrees Celsius) and mean annual precipitation of 48 inches (123 centimeters) (Daymet, 2005). Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year.

Highest streamflows in all rivers occur in April as a result of spring runoff and snowmelt, and lowest streamflows occur in July through September (Flanagan and others, 1999). Streams in this region support warm-water biological communities (Flanagan and others, 1999).

Featured Publication:

Coles, J.F., Cuffney, T. F., McMahon, Gerard, and Beaulieu, K.M., 2004, The effects of urbanization on the biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of coastal New England streams: U.S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 1695, 47 p.

For more information about the study area —

Accessibility FOIA Privacy Policies and Notices

Take Pride in America home page. FirstGov button U.S. Department of the Interior | U.S. Geological Survey
Page Contact Information: Jerry McMahon
Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 04-Mar-2014 14:45:34 EST