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Charles River Watershed Association receives $894,000 to combat river flooding

Geese on the Charles River
Geese floating on the Charles River. A grant of $849,000 has been granted to the Charles River Watershed Association to improve climate resilience and implement flood prevention measures. SAM BETSKO/DFP STAFF

The Charles River Watershed Association announced the Massachusetts state government awarded a $894,000 grant to the organization on Sept. 20 to increase climate resilience in the watershed, according to a CRWA press release.

The Charles River watershed extends as far south as Wrentham and as far west as Milford. It includes the river and its many tributaries, as well as 33 ponds and lakes that are mostly man-made.

“Watersheds do not conform to political boundaries,” the CRWA wrote on their website. “Managing a watershed as a whole achieves better conservation strategies that work with the natural layout of the land.” 

The grant will go toward flood prevention measures, such as evaluating stream/roadway crossings and old dams, as well as “on-the-ground projects to protect our most vulnerable communities, infrastructure, and properties from flooding,” according to the press release. 

Vernon Walker, program director at Communities Responding to Extreme Weather and Boston University alumnus 2016 — an outreach organization partnering with CRWA on the grant — said flooding could become more common as sea levels rise.

“The urgency of the moment is that those 100-years floods and storms that we saw once every 100 years are becoming a lot more frequent,” he said. “Boston is a city that’s on landfill, and in some respects, Boston is a coastal city.”

Walker, who is also an advisory board member of the CRWA, said that if the sea level continues to rise, parts of the city such as Dorchester, Back Bay and Seaport could potentially end up underwater.

CRWA Climate Compact Director Julie Wood said the organization’s goal with the new grant is to identify projects, including site-specific projects further up the river geared toward holding water.

“A lot of flooding is really a timing issue,” she said. “If you could just hold some of that water for a little longer and give a chance for some of the floodwaters to recede into the ocean, you can mitigate some of that flooding just through holding it.”

Wood said this could be achieved by storing water in a pond. 

“Ponds have a natural fluctuation in their level, so usually there’s some room, especially if you lower it in anticipation of a storm,” she said.

The CRWA also noted a tool called the Charles River Flood Model which helps determine when and where a location is vulnerable to flooding. This tool can then help experts identify solutions to stop floods before they begin.

Wood said the idea is to “use this tool to really find out what works and then in the coming years and decades, put these things into practice.”

The City of Boston has also implemented “green infrastructure” as one of their strategies to combat urban runoff — from streets, parking lots and sidewalks — which utilizes natural components like rain gardens and bioretention cells to return runoff to the ground, Wood said. 

As to what the community can do to help, Walker said being prepared for floods and storm water runoff is “important and goes a long way.”

“There’s an opportunity for community members who care about our waterways and the quality of water to connect with organizations like the Charles River Watershed Association,” he said.

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