IPSWICH (CBS) — The Ipswich River provides drinking water for 350,000 people north of Boston, and recently it was placed on the list of the 10 most endangered rivers.

“We are what’s called the most flow depleted river in Massachusetts,” explained the Executive Director of the Ipswich River Watershed Association Wayne Castonguay.

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So here’s what is happening – the river, which originates in Burlington and runs to Plum Island, provides water to communities that are outside the watershed. When you add sprinkler systems and lawn watering during the dry summer months, the water levels get very low.

“Half of the water that comes out during the summer goes onto lawns,” said Castonguay explained.

In very dry years, the riverbed in downtown Ipswich runs dry.

“It actually does not make it to the ocean anymore during droughts,” he said.

In Ipswich, that means very strict rules on non-essential water use, like lawn watering.

“It’s frustrating because our laws are yellow,” one homeowner told WBZ-TV. A second man said he now uses eight rain barrels to collect water from his gutters to use in his yard.

But other towns that also take water from the river, like Peabody, Lynn, and Salem, don’t face those same restrictions.

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“It’s an unfair system,” Castonguay said.

It’s also very complicated. It all started back in the 1980s with the Massachusetts Water Management Act. The law requires users to conserve water during state-issued droughts. But it allowed many large water users, including municipalities, to register the water they were already using.

“They are exempt from the rules,” Castonguay said.

But the state is considering a change to regulations that could mean homeowners in those communities whose water use is exempt, might have to cut back.

It’s welcome news in Ipswich where residents have to conserve during those dry summers while they watch their river dry up.

“I’ve lived here for nine years and basically every year, the water restrictions get longer and longer,” one homeowner said.

“It will really, for the first time, bring some equity in the system,” Castonguay said. “If we work together, we can share the water. There is plenty of water to go around, but some towns have more than others.”

The state is expected to decide on this issue before the start of the summer. The way the law is written, if they decide not to make the change, state officials will have to wait ten years to consider it again.

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There are many other entities that have to register their water use as well, like golf courses, farms, and cranberry bogs. But these users are not subject to the restrictions because it’s part of their business. Users that do have to conserve have water permits. Some water departments have multiple sources of water and have both permits and registrations.

Sarah Wroblewski