The 2016 Ipswich drought

Based on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Palmer Drought Severity Index, the three-month period between May 1 and July 31 was the driest for those three months in Massachusetts since 1966 and the ninth driest on record.

Due to the shortage of rainfall and continued high water demand, the Ipswich Water Department issued a Drought Emergency notice on August 22, 2016. All outside use of water is prohibited and all residents are to limit non-essential indoor water use. The Drought Emergency shall remain in effect until further notice. The Water Department is working with MassDEP on options to augment our supply. It is imperative that water demand drop to winter levels immediately to ensure the Water Department can continue to meet basic domestic and firefighting needs. Questions may be directed to the Water Department at 978-356-6635.

Dow Brook Reservoir


The Dow Brook Reservoir, August 31, 2016. Photo by Gordon Harris

The Ipswich Department of Public Utilities (DPU) Water Department serves approximately 14,000 people and 70 percent of Ipswich’s land area. The Water Department obtains its water from a mix of surface and groundwater sources located in the Egypt/Rowley and lower Ipswich watersheds, with the majority coming from the Egypt/Rowley watershed.

The largest single water source in Ipswich is the Dow and Bull Brook Reservoir system, located within the Egypt/Rowley watershed. The two reservoirs operate as a combined system, with water from the Bull Brook Reservoir being transferred to the Dow Reservoir by gravity through a 36-inch diversion pipe.

The usable storage volume of the Dow reservoir is 53.1 million gallons, and the usable storage volume of the Bull Brook reservoir is 27.4 million gallons, for a total volume of 80.5 million gallons.

The remainder of the Town’s water supply comes from six ground water sources. Two gravel packed wells, Mile Lane Well and Browns Well, are located within the Egypt/Rowley watershed. Four other groundwater sources, Winthrop Well 1, Winthrop Well 2/3, Essex Road Well, and Fellows Road Well, are located within the Ipswich River watershed. (View info source)


The Ipswich River

The Ipswich River below the dam at low tide, August 2016. Photo by Bill Sargent
Ipswich River Daily discharge, cubic feet per second — statistics for Aug 31 based on 86 years of record Read USGS government data.


Ipswich River Most Recent
Instantaneous value cf/second
Aug 31, 2016
Median Mean Max
0.27 16 34 308


Wayne Castonguay, director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association appeared in an interview with WCVB Channel 5.

Further reading:

2 thoughts on “The 2016 Ipswich drought”

  1. I was wondering if your local historian an anthropologist we’re taking advantage of the low water levels to look for artifacts in the stream beds? Your town has such an amazing history you could easily find cannonballs coins any number of artifacts in the stream beds and maybe at the bottom of the reservoir. It might be worth a look.

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