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Watershed Protection

The Indian Lake Watershed Association (ILWA) has worked feverishly for over 20 years to restore and preserve the environmental quality of Indian Lake and its watershed. Building on the success and enthusiasm, the ILWA team partnered with other knowledgeable organizations to expand their efforts into the Mill Brook Watershed as a whole.  

Over the past 50 years, development within the Indian Lake watershed has increased dramatically which has caused increased water quality problems at Indian Lake and its tributaries and inlets. This development has attributed to increased sedimentation and unwanted nutrients entering the lake from both upstream development and urban runoff. High phosphorous entering the waterways has resulted in severe impairment of water quality, primarily in the form of low dissolved oxygen, nuisance aquatic plants, turbidity and organic enrichment. This has been documented in numerous studies and routine water quality monitoring conducted by the ILWA through the Blackstone Headwater Monitoring Team (BHMT) Program and by the City Department of Public Health (DPH). All of these conditions threaten the long term health of Indian Lake.

It has taken many years for Indian Lake's quality to deteriorate and it is not something that can be fixed overnight, our organization's efforts have been and will continue to be focused around improving water quality through various projects and education.

Projects that have significantly worked towards this goal include the use of an annual drawdown to combat non-native invasive weeds that have entered the lake, water quality monitoring, participating in a watershed wide surveys to identify things that may be negatively impacting the lake, storm drain stenciling, educating the public on how their activities within the watershed impact the lake and the installation of three underground sedimentation basins to reduce the flow of sediment entering the lake.


Installation of Underground Sedimentation Basin at Nelson Place 11/2005

Some of the long term goals of the ILWA to achieve further success include the installation of additional sedimentation reduction systems, dredging of accumulated sediment and replacement of the Sears Island Causeway.


Watershed protection starts in your own backyard. Every one of us can make a difference in the long term health of our waterways.

Here are some things you can do to start helping TODAY!

  1. Water only when and where it is really needed.
  2. Limit use of pesticides and fertilizers.
  3. Plant native vegetation.
  4. Redirect roof runoff to vegetated areas (consider a rain garden and/or barrel)
  5. Keep a buffer of native vegetation along waterways.
  6. Dispose of pet waste properly.
  7. Never dump anything into a storm water drain, lake or tributary.
  8. Recycle and dispose of household chemicals properly.
  9. Join your local watershed association!

Pet Waste - What you need to know before you head out for a walk...


It's important to know that each homeowners can take action on their own properties to protect Indian Lake. One of the many ways is to consider a rain garden that diverts runoff from roofs, downspouts, driveways and other areas that could be contain chemicals harmful to our water bodies and direct them to a garden which serves as a filter.

It's a little extra work to create a rain garden but the benefits to the local waterways are many.

Rain Garden Brochure


There is little disagreement that the sediment that has entered Indian Lake over the years is a major contributing factor to its current condition. However, removal of this sediment is not very simple. Not only does the sediment need to be 'characterized' (you need to know how much there is an what's in it) before removal, the engineering required to apply for permits is often more expensive than the removal itself.

In 2007, the ILWA, with monies secured by then State Representative Spellane employed Aquatic Control Technologies to characterize the sediment at four locations around the lake: Nelson Place, Huntington Avenue, Sherbourne Avenue and Shore Drive. The results can be found below:

2007 Indian Lake Dredging Report


In the fall of 2007, a special COASTSWEEP effort was done in cooperation with our fall cleanup of the lake. Volunteers of all ages, residents and members of several neighborhood organizations participated in the event, including the Indian Lake Watershed Association, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester, and the Department of Public Works and Parks.

Loree Griffin Burns, local scientist and author of Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, is coordinated this event in celebration of twenty years of ocean protection by The Ocean Conservancy and its Massachusetts counterpart, COASTSWEEP.

The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), which kicked off across the country on September 15, 2007 is the world’s largest volunteer effort to improve the health of the ocean and its wildlife. In addition to cleaning up waterways and beaches, volunteers collect important data on the types, quantity and location of marine debris. The information they gather is compiled into an annual report that is then used to educate and inform citizens and policymakers on ocean conservation issues.

More information on The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup can be found at

For details on COATSWEEP and the many cleanup events happening around Massachusetts, please visit


In the spring of 2002, the ILWA joined forces with the Mill Brook Task Force (MBTF) to complete one of the first Massachusetts Department of Fish & Wildlife Riverways Lake Watershed Stewardship Programs of the entire 15 square mile Upper Mill Brook sub-watershed to Salisbury Pond and Indian Lake in Worcester, Massachusetts. Key issues were noted, summarized, and presented to city and state officials and an action plan to address these issues was created as part of our lake management program. With funds received from a Greater Worcester Community Foundation (GWCF) Water and Land Stewardship Fund, a group of over 20 volunteers monitored the water quality of the lake and its tributaries to identify key pollution areas to target. During the survey and water quality monitoring, several areas were identified as potential pollutants to Indian Lake and its watershed. 

diana rd

Clogged Catch Basin Found During Watershed Survey

These high priority pollutant areas will be addressed through the construction of stormwater treatment devices (BMPs), which will capture pollutants before they enter Indian Lake. Longterm, we are looking to substantially reduce the loading of sediment, phosphorus and other contaminants entering Indian Lake. The implementation of watershed BMPs will be designed to effectively remove phosphorous and sediment loading which will in turn control macrophyte nuisance algae growth and restore the Lake for primary and secondary contact recreation.  

The ILWA is a member of the Blackstone Headwaters Monitoring Team (BHMT). Water quality monitoring will be conducted throughout the entire watershed. The on-going water quality monitoring efforts will gather valuable information to support protection and restoration of this great natural resource and aquatic habitat.   

Another important goal of this project is to involve local residents to become involved in the protection of a great natural resource.  With funding from the GWCF, we were able to expand our water quality monitoring program to include over 20 volunteers and over 25 monitoring sites throughout the watershed. With the expansion of the restoration project we will continue to garner more citizens to become involved within the community and become stewards for their watershed and neighborhood.


Tree and Shrub Fertilization Near Waterways


Lakes and ponds throughout the country have an ongoing threat with no immediate solution. Non native invasive weeds can literally overtake and choke a waterbody which can have a detrimental impact on the native plants, aquatic life and recreation.

Non native invasive weeds most often travel to lakes and ponds via boats which makes it imperative that boaters and fishermen take the time to inspect your boats and equipment for plants and animals each time they leave a waterbody.

For the past ten years, Indian Lake has battled an infestation with Eurasian Milifoil which is a submerged invasive aquatic plant that can form dense mats at the water’s surface. Eurasian Milfoil is a very hardy species and has established itself in a wide range of aquatic habitats. Once established, Eurasian Milfoil can out-compete native vegetation and drive out the animals that depend on the native vegetation for survival. Its dense large mats of vegetation on the water surface can intercept sunlight leaving the native plants and animals with little sunlight.

While the ILWA makes every attempt to control the weed growth without the use of chemicals, on occasion herbicides such as diquat and 2,4,D have been use to control Eurasian Milfoil. The last treatment was a “spot” treatment in the summer of 2004 in preparation for a pilot plant replacement program (see below).

More information on what you can do to stop the spread of invasive species can be found by reviewing the pdf document below:

Stop the Spread of Invasive Weeds

For more information on Eurasion Milifoil, please see the document below:

Eurasion Milifoil


The Indian Lake Watershed Association has consistently looked for ways to manage weed growth without the use of chemical treatments.

Approximately ten years ago, upon recommendation from Lycott Environmental, the ILWA gained support for an annual drawdown at Indian Lake. While several levels have been tried, the most success is seen when the level is lowered five feet vertical as it has been consistently for several years.

The water level is lowered in November by opening the gates near Rt. 190 which lead to the Blackstone Canal. Approximately half the lake bottom is exposed until the gates are closed in mid February. Exposed weeds are killed by the cold and remaining weeds are usually pulled up as the ice breaks up.

After many years at a 6 feet vertical drawdown, the ILWA in cooperation with the City of Worcester Department of Public Works and Parks moved to a 4 foot drawdown in the winter of 2010. This new height is being evaluated out of spawning concerns raised by local fishing enthusiasts.


As part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s 319 Non-Point Source Pollution Program (319) grant award, the Indian Lake Watershed Association was given the opportunity to participate in an innovative, but unproven, plant replacement pilot program at Indian Lake.

The ILWA worked with ESS Group Inc. an environmental consulting and engineering firm based in Providence, RI as well as Aquatic Control Technologies, pond and lake management specialists out of Sutton, MA on this project. The goal of the plant replacement program was to determine whether it is effective and feasible to control Eurasian Milifoil by eliminating it through the use of herbicides and preventing it from re-establishing itself in these same areas by actively transplanting more desirable (typically bottom growing) native aquatic plant species to the cleared area soon after the milifoil had been hilled by the herbicide.

If this pilot program was successful at Indian Lake, it was expected that the technique would then be considered a viable option for maintaining long-term control of the milifoil population and would ultimately reduce the need for herbicide treatments. Lessons learned through this pilot program are also intended to provide the state and other interested parties with a case study that may be used to evaluate the potential for plant replacement to be applied elsewhere in the state as a technique for long-term nuisance weed management.

A spot herbicide treatment was applied to the areas where the new plants were to be inserted in July of 2004. The plants were removed from Little Indian Lake and transplanted to the larger Indian Lake soon after.

Unfortunately the new plants did not take root into Indian Lake as was evident in a survey done by ESS in July of 2005. The clarity of the water appears to be the biggest factor in why the plants could not establish themselves. Excessive sediment buildup and runoff in Indian Lake has created a shallow waterbody with a history of poor clarity so it was probably not the ideal situation of the project. However, the experience we have gained from the opportunity to participate in such an important project is invaluable.

Click here to view a pdf of the final plant replacement program report.


The Indian Lake Watershed Association began monthly water quality monitoring as part of the requirements for the 319 grant combined with our efforts with the Blackstone Headwaters Monitoring Team two years ago. This combined with our watershed wide survey allowed us to document key things that may be negatively impacting the lake quality and helped us to develop a long term plan for water improvements. Now that the monitoring is no longer a requirement of the grant, we have reduced the testing to twice a year. Things that we test for include temperature, Ph, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, phosphates and nitrates.

While these terms may not make you want to run out and get involved, let me explain to you some of the important reasons why you should.

  • Oxygen is necessary for all forms of life. If the dissolved oxygen (DO) level is too low in a water body, the aquatic life is put under stress. Low DO levels have been known to cause massive fish kills in a matter of hours!
  • There is a saying that ’green lawns mean green lakes’. High levels of nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers applied within the watershed can enter the water system, accelerate the plant growth and contribute to algae blooms. While aquatic plants are an important component of lake systems, providing food and shelter for bugs, fish and other organisms as well as providing shoreline erosion control, any conditions that harm such a balanced environment can potentially destroy thousands of organisms and aquatic life that lives there.

Indian Lake is also the headwaters of the Blackstone Canal whose ongoing revival has been celebrated from Worcester to Providence. The improvements we make will ultimately have an impact on these efforts too! If we can continue to track data after the upcoming installation of the BMPs, we should be able to see a very clear pattern of improvement at the sites they are installed and be able to use this to leverage monies for more of them to be put into place.

We are learning too! There are many tests that are not difficult but we need more people to train. Even dropping off a water sample from one of the designated points helps! The more people we can get to help with collecting samples and/or testing, the quicker the process goes, we can continue collecting this data and building on our success.

We are currently monitoring locations in spring and fall only. The more people we can get to either pick up a water sample or learn to run these tests, the better.

For information on how you can help, contact Beth Proko at 508-856-9598.


As part of the 319 grant, we stenciled many of the 1500 storm drains that drain into Indian Lake with signage that deters people from dumping into these drains but there are many still to do. Paint and supervision of this project is provided by the Worcester DPW. Large groups such as boy/girl scouts and schools are also encouraged.