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Organization for the Assabet River
Damonmill Square
Concord, MA 01742

Tel: 978-369-3956
Email: oar@assabetriver.org


Our mission, vision and values

“Access to clean water will be the defining issue for the twenty-first century.

Mission | Vision | Purposes and Values | Context | Acknowledgments


The mission of the Organization for the Assabet River is to protect, preserve, and enhance the natural and recreational features of the Assabet River, its tributaries and watershed.

Vision for the Assabet River and its watershed

The Assabet watershed is our home. It embodies our sense of place in the landscape. The Assabet River, its tributaries, and associated wetlands provide scenic beauty, drinking water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, agricultural irrigation, wastewater assimilation, and hydroelectric power to the 177,000 residents of the 177 square mile watershed. A watershed is a complex web of interrelated components—human, plant, animal, soil, air, and water. A change in one part may be reflected throughout the system. The health of the river and our community depends on regaining and sustaining the fragile balance between competing demands placed on our water resources. We all benefit when water resources are protected.


Our vision is a river system in which the water is clean enough for swimming, most of the river is returned to its free-flowing state, flow approximates natural cycles, and any manmade impoundments are free of sediments.

Specifically we believe that:

  • The Assabet and its tributaries should meet state Class B water quality standards throughout the watershed
  • River flow should be sufficient to assimilate wastewater discharges and support indigenous fish populations
  • Water withdrawals should be mitigated; groundwater recharge should occur close to the source
  • Discharge from wastewater treatment plants should not degrade the river
  • Commercial pollutants of the river and tributaries should be eliminated at their source
  • The Assabet should be a free flowing river; sediment buildup in impoundments should be removed.


The Assabet watershed, its river corridor, and tributaries should support the full range of native species typical for a New England river with its flow characteristics and surrounding habitat. Healthy ecosystems in the watershed will directly contribute to a healthy Assabet.

Specifically we believe that:

  • The river corridor should support significant populations of native species matching the habitat.
    Wildlife should be able to migrate along a protected river corridor from the Assabet Reservoir to Egg Rock.
  • The body chemistry of the fauna in the river should be “normal,” that is with no heavy metal or organic contaminants. Fish caught in the river and tributaries should be safe to eat.
  • Invasive species of flora and fauna should be reduced and eventually eliminated from the watershed.


The Assabet River system and areas of the watershed offer outstanding scenic beauty and opportunities for recreation and nature-watching. Our vision is a watershed where scenic vistas are protected and recreational opportunities are abundant, accessible, enjoyable, and safe.

Specifically we believe that:

  • The water in the Assabet River and its tributaries should be clean enough for swimming and wading
  • The river should be navigable by canoes and kayaks
  • Boat access to the river should be signed and have appropriate parking areas
  • A system of trails should allow hikers, fishermen, naturalists, and picnickers to have access to river banks and surrounding lands
  • The river should be free of tires, bottles, and other debris

Cultural and Historic Resources

The Assabet River is tied to a rich literary, historical, and cultural legacy. Our vision is a watershed where this legacy is well-understood, accessible, and integrated into planning decisions.

Specifically we believe that:

  • The history of the river and watershed, including oral history, should be documented and made accessible to residents and planners.
  • Significant historical sites on the river should be identified, preserved, and, where feasible, restored.

Stewardship and Education

We all share responsibility for the care of our rivers and streams and for the watershed in which we live. Our vision is a community where every resident is a well-informed steward of our natural resources. Land areas contributing to the health and beauty of the Assabet River system, including flood plains, wetlands, steep slopes, and groundwater recharge areas, should be managed with sensitivity to the effect on our water resources.

Specifically we believe that:

  • Education and outreach is key to accomplishing OAR's mission
  • Watershed residents of all generations should know that the Assabet River is their local river and that they live in its watershed.
  • Watershed residents of all generations should be knowledgeable about how their actions affect our water resources and should practice good stewardship
  • Land areas contributing to the health and beauty of the Assabet River system, including flood plains, wetlands, steep slopes, and groundwater recharge areas, should be protected
  • Land management practices along the river and tributaries and in groundwater recharge areas should be consistent with best environmental management practices

The Organization for the Assabet River

To achieve this ambitious vision for the Assabet watershed, OAR must be a highly effective, sustainable organization with secure funding, a diverse and committed membership, and competent staff.

Specifically we believe that OAR should:

  • Earn recognition by residents, businesses, and local, state and federal governments as the leading advocate for the Assabet River
  • Maintain respect for its vision, integrity, and technical competence
  • Have professional staff in core areas
  • Be highly effective at fund raising to provide the financial basis for advocacy, outreach, and research
  • Build support for its vision for the Assabet watershed through partnerships and collaborative relationships with municipalities, environmental organizations, and other stakeholders
  • Have a strong and stable membership base from which to develop a skilled and growing team of volunteers
  • Be prepared to use regulatory and legal channels when necessary to achieve its goals
  • Have a Board of Directors that reflects both the diversity of the population in the watershed and the needs of the organization

Purposes and Values

According to its bylaws, OAR was founded to:

  • Work for the restoration and maintenance of clean water and the wise use and proper management of water, land and related natural resources in the Assabet River Watershed
  • Acquire land or rights to land for conservation purposes and to assist and encourage other organizations and public agencies to do the same within the Watershed
  • Establish and promote programs of public information, education and scientific research related to the aims of this organization
  • Promote these purposes through coordination of similar efforts by other organizations, individuals, public agencies and public officials

OAR is guided by these values:

  • The health of a river is a reflection of the health of its entire watershed
  • Active and informed participation by citizens, business people, and municipal governments in matters affecting their watershed is a prerequisite to lasting watershed protection
  • The Assabet watershed will always need guardians; including the youth of our communities is imperative for the OAR mission to continue into the future
  • Anticipation and prevention of potential environmental problems is more effective than reaction and remediation
  • Advocacy should be based on a scientific understanding of the river and its context


The Assabet River watershed lies in the heart of the Route 495 high-tech corridor outside Boston, a region of sustained population and commercial growth. The Assabet is closely entwined with the economic, literary, and social history of the area and our country. Congress recognized this when it designated the lower 4 miles as a national Wild and Scenic River. However, the river is severely degraded, especially during the summer.

The majority of the water pumped from area water supplies ends up in the Assabet main stem as effluent. Tougher septic regulations, designed to protect our rivers and wetlands, also provide an incentive to tie up to sewer systems. Many of the eight wastewater treatment plants along the river and its tributaries have reached or will soon reach capacity; the river is beyond its capacity to assimilate wastewater. Mid-summer flows in the Assabet are now 80% or more effluent. In an effort to address these problems, six communities are in the midst of a joint comprehensive wastewater planning process. It is anticipated that treatment plant upgrades to meet water quality standards and prevent further degradation of the river could cost up to $118 million.

The cost of clean water is becoming ever more apparent. Increasing groundwater extraction threatens the sustainability of local water supplies and has reduced the contribution from underlying aquifers to the base flow of the river. Increasing areas of impervious surface, where stormwater management systems channel rainwater quickly into the river, diminish aquifer recharge.

Residents are increasingly aware of the fragility of our water resources but may not be knowledgeable about how their actions affect the watershed. Many people do not realize they live in a watershed and do not know their "watershed address." Political and media boundaries do not coincide with watershed boundaries. The challenge OAR faces is engaging a wealthy and progressive population that generally demonstrates a commitment to environmental values yet may not be aware of the relationship between their actions and the health of the watershed.

Since it was founded in 1986, OAR has focused on improving water quality in the main stem of the river. Our advocacy for the river is based on strong technical expertise and accurate data from our well-respected water quality monitoring program. To protect the Assabet, we must build on this success as we widen our focus to the entire watershed.

Our biggest project to date, StreamWatch, is a step in this direction, as it studies fish in the tributaries and raises awareness of water conservation and stream flow issues and their relationship to habitat. StreamWatch provides both a funding cushion and program direction for OAR through the end of 2003. It is important that we plan carefully to replace the funding when it ends and to be sure that we build on its success to further enhance water resource protection in the watershed.

OAR has a loyal and hardworking core of staff, board, members, and volunteers. A healthy Assabet River system depends upon the cooperative engagement of all the interests in the watershed, including residents, municipal staff and boards, recreational users, and state and federal agencies. In the past several years OAR has collaborated with a wide variety of local, regional, and statewide groups on programs and events, enabling us to promote common agendas and to reach wider audiences. We are now working with the six municipalities in the Assabet Consortium to find funding to offset the costs of wastewater treatment plant upgrades. StreamWatch involves collaboration with federal, state, and local governments as well as a number of strong local and regional environmental organizations. We must build on these successful collaborations to develop a watershed-wide ethic of water resource protection.


This document is the result of an intensive strategic planning effort conducted by the Organization for the Assabet River during the spring of 2002. This document completes the vision that will be used as the basis for program and development plans from 2002 – 2005.

The Strategic Planning took place in a series of retreats funded in part by the Crossroads Community Foundation.


Sun, Feb 9, 2003