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State grants fund water protection projects

After a cleanup effort that started a decade ago and led to the removal of 100 tons of debris and thousands of tires from the Spicket River in Lawrence, the focus will now shift to restoring the river’s habitat.

The work will get underway with the help of a $35,000 grant awarded to Groundwork Lawrence, the nonprofit leading the Spicket River Greenway project. The award was part of $499,008 in Massachusetts Environmental Trust grants recently issued for 15 water and coastal improvement projects in the state.

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Funds came from the sale of three of the state’s specialty license plates: the Right Whale Tail, the Leaping Brook Trout, and the Blackstone Valley Mill. Awards were given to groups in Andover, Ipswich, Lawrence, Lowell, Salem, and Saugus.

“This project fits into a lot of the work we’re doing building the Spicket River Greenway,” said Brad Buschur, project director at Groundwork Lawrence. “It’s a warm-water system, so it would support largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel, fish carp, bluegill, and hopefully down the line, species like herring and shad will migrate from the Merrimack [River].”

The work will include the installation of boulder clusters and resting pools along the river to improve fish passage, breeding habitats, and to prevent erosion along the banks, Buschur said. There also will be an educational component, where elementary and middle school students participating in a summer camp led by Groundwork and Mass Audubon will learn about the river and its habitat, and where high school students employed by Groundwork will be taught urban ecology.

Improvements to fish and wildlife habitats also will occur along the Parker, Ipswich, and Essex rivers, which affect approximately 30 communities north of Boston. The Ipswich River Watershed Association received $25,850 to perform a survey and analysis of culverts and bridges along the three watersheds to determine which act as barriers to fish and wildlife moving up and down the rivers.

“At every quarter-mile, these organisms are running into these, and at certain times of the year it can be a problem,” said Brian Kelder, the association’s restoration program manager. “Our goal would be to survey as many of these crossings that we can over the next two years, and then provide a summary of that information to municipalities and entities charged with maintaining them.”

Among the largest grant awards was $60,000 to the Saugus River Watershed Council, which proposed taking the results of the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report released last year and implementing some of the strategies to protect resources along the five largest watershed communities: Lynn, Lynnfield, Revere, Saugus, and Wakefield.

“When people think of climate change, they think of climate warming, but it’s more than that; it’s sporadic climate situations,” said Joan LeBlanc, executive director of the Saugus council. “The bottom line is that all of the local infrastructure is really burdened by the intensity of the storm and the frequency.”

The Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust received $10,000 to establish a new water resources education program at the Daley Middle School. The grant builds on a prior grant used to analyze the ecology, history, and water quality of River Meadow Brook, which runs near the Lowell Connector and drains into a 24-square-mile watershed, said Jane Calvin, executive director of the trust.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students will go on field trips alongside scientists analyzing the brook’s water quality.

“They’ll go to the River Brook and they’ll do water testing, look at mackerel invertebrates. They’re also good indicators for water quality,” Calvin said. “It’ll be interesting for the kids to look under the microscope. They’ll also have visits from wild animals from the Mass Audubon farm after school. Kids don’t make the connection in the city that these animals are living right in their midst.”

Two awards were issued in Salem: $50,000 to Salem Sound Coastwatch and $17,544 to Salem State University.

Coastwatch will monitor and evaluate Salem Harbor over a two-year period to understand the impact of microscopic sea plants, storm-water pollution, and boating activity on water clarity and the decline of eelgrass. Salem State’s geologists will monitor the impact of dissolved chloride on freshwater resources as a result of road salt application.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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