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The Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) is the voice of the river—a group of people helping make sure there is enough clean water for the 350,000 people and businesses in 14 communities on the North Shore of Massachusetts, protecting nature, and providing great ways to have fun outdoors.

It takes a team to care for such a critical resource. With a staff and board of less than 20 people, more than two dozen conservation and governmental partners, and the help of scores of volunteers, this small but mighty organization has safeguarded the Ipswich River since 1977.

In 2006, Dr. Joseph (Bob) Petranek generously donated his house and 15 acres on the river to the organization. Over the years, an additional 9 acres was donated by the Smith Family and the Congress Corporation, and the Riverbend became the association’s headquarters. The property is permanently protected for public use and enjoyment, and contains a canoe dock, trails, green building, green roof, water-wise demonstration projects and gardens, and association offices.

What IRWA does

As the river watchdog, IRWA exists to keep the river out of danger and ensure a sustainable water supply for the area, by:

10496199_837602052951073_5591434803170071825_oRestoring the physical habitat. Among its many efforts to support native fish and wildlife, this includes removing migration barriers—dismantling obsolete dams and replacing culverts that are either too small or poorly installed.

Monitoring water conditions. Through the RiverWatch water quality monitoring program, the group assesses the health of the Ipswich River at 31 sites throughout the watershed. Volunteers collect data monthly from March-December on weather conditions and rain; water color, odor and clarity; water temperature; conductivity; and more.  The organization also conducts a herring count each spring, and monitors macroinvertebrates and streamflow.

Advocating for the river. These efforts ensure that federal, state and local water policies, water withdrawal permits, and regulatory decisions protect ecosystem health and include prudent conservation measures. Most recently, IRWA and friends of the river participated in hearings to voice their concerns about gas pipeline construction along the Peabody Rail trail.

11329892_957750550936222_3338448078620285410_nGetting people out to enjoy the river. The Ipswich River is the premier paddling river in the area, and IRWA’s recreation guide includes a list of parks and other public spaces to go fishing and clamming, swimming, camping, biking and see wildlife. The association has installed interpretive kiosks and education signs along the river, and regularly hosts padding, walking, and birding events for people of all ages and abilities.

“One of our biggest challenges is that the river is ‘loved to death’ and to protect it, we want people to use less water,” says Executive Director Wayne Castonguay. So the organization educates towns, businesses and residents about water conservation, presenting many programs each year as well as promoting ways to Save Water, Save Money, and care for yards and gardens using less water and chemicals.

Good Giving Practices

When this membership association started accepting online donations in 2006, it partnered with JustGive for services. The association uses a JustGive link for its own Donate button that appears on every page of the website, has customized it Donation Page with a logo and gift levels—and also links to the Donation Page in numerous places throughout the site. Both the Support and Membership sections of the website offer donors the online giving option.

“Most of our new donors are coming from online giving, and it’s a critical tool for us,” comments Castonguay. “JustGive meets our needs and has been really responsive.”

In addition to its Donation Page, IRWA recently used other JustGive services, setting up an advocacy campaign (with a Registry) to raise legal funds to fight the gas pipeline.


A hub for environmental conservation in the area, the Ipswich River Watershed Association brings together conservation groups, municipality partners, research centers, businesses and volunteers to create solutions and make a difference.

11750684_999594036751873_6495840608048644213_nIn 2011, the association convened the Parker-Ipswich-Essex Rivers Restoration Partnership (PIE-Rivers), a regional network of 18 organizations. And in 2013, a group of PIE-Rivers partners received federal money from the Hurricane Sandy Grant Program to support restorative work. Ipswich River Watershed Association is a part of the collective group that’s investing nearly $2 million of those dollars in a Free Our Rivers Campaign to improve habitat conditions through dam removal and ecologically safe bridge and culvert designs.

Last year, IRWA engaged nearly 800 people in events and activities, had its canoes and kayaks used 640 times, worked with about 215 volunteers, and helped get 327 culverts surveyed. This small but mighty association is successfully leveraging its staff, partners, volunteers and nearly 1,000 members to support and protect the lifeblood of the area, the Ipswich River.

Give now if you’d like to support the good work of the Ipswich River Watershed Association:


– Candy Culver
Marketing Consultant

P.S. If you’d like to be featured in the JustGive Blog, submit your nonprofit!

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