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CHARLES RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION

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Law, Advocacy & Policy - Charles River Watershed Association

Learn more about CRWA's Public Resource Protection Initiatives by visiting the links below:

Muddy River Restoration
Removal of Charles River Dams
Medfield State Hospital
Daly Field

Muddy River Restoration

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The Muddy River, which flows 3.5 miles from its headwaters in Jamaica Pond through the Emerald Necklace and the Back Bay Fens, is the only remaining above-ground tributary to the Lower Charles River. In the 1950's, however, portions of the Muddy River were diverted into underground pipes which proved to be problematic pinch points in the system, causing water to back up and flood local neighborhoods. After experiencing multiple severe flood events, including a flood that closed the Kenmore T stop in 1996, local institutions sought a solution to this recurring problem.

Working with a large group of stakeholders including community groups and state, local and federal officials, CRWA advocated for daylighting (directing the stream into an above ground channel) the Muddy River to help address flooding while restoring the health of the Muddy River.

In 2013, following years of planning and negotiations, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on Phase 1 of the Muddy River Restoration Project, which included uncovering and restoring a previously buried section of the river to an open stream. As well as flood control, the project restored habitat to the Muddy River, removed invasive species and planted wetland plants, shrubs and trees. Phase 1 of the Muddy River Restoration project was completed in 2016. This restored section of stream not only improves flood control and habitat, it adds a beautiful new blue/green space to Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.

CRWA continues to  serve on the Muddy River Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee (MMOC), the citizen-led oversight body of the project.

Design plans for Phase 2 of the restoration are expected to be 75% complete in the winter of 2016-2017. Phase 2 involves dredging of the river sections both up and downstream of the Phase I site to increase flow capacity along the entire length of the river. Please refer to the Muddy River MMOC Website for project status updates or sign up for the MMOC's quarterly newsletter

Sign Up for Muddy River Updates

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Removal of Charles River Dams

Bellingham Old Mill Dam
Pond behind old mill dam

There are 22 dams on the Charles River. Originally built to power mills or provide flood control, most of these dams are now obsolete, but the structures remain and harm the Charles River ecosystem without providing any benefits to surrounding communities. Dams prevent migratory fish, including the American shad and blueback herring, from traveling upstream to lay their eggs. Dams also slow the flow of the Charles River, hampering the river's ability to cleanse itself. Dam upkeep and repairs place a financial burden on dam owners, including cities and towns as well as the Commonwealth. Removing dams increases public safety while eliminating dam maintenance costs. CRWA strongly supports dam owners pursuing dam removal as a cost effective and restorative option.

The Town of Bellingham will soon begin work to remove the Old Mill Dam on Pearl Street in Bellingham, making Old Mill Dam the first dam to be removed from the mainstem of the Charles River. CRWA worked with the Massachusetts Environmental Trust and other partners to breach the Bleachery Dam in Waltham in 2005; however, a portion of this dam structure remains intact and sits below the water’s surface under normal flow conditions. Demolishing the Old Mill Dam will increase public safety while improving river habitat. Removing the dam and restoring river flow will allow fish and other aquatic wildlife, as well as nutrients and organic materials, to move freely along the Charles River.

READ MORE: First dam removal on the Charles River begins

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Medfield State Hospital

Medfield State Hospital - Law, Advocacy & Policy
Charles River Gateway - Law, Advocacy & Policy

Located on 269 acres along the banks of the Charles River in Medfield, the Medfield State Hospital opened its doors in 1896 and remained in operation until 2003. During this time, the Hospital dumped its waste on the banks of the Charles, creating a 3-acre site contaminated with asbestos, lead, and other hazardous materials. An oil spill from a nearby power plant also contaminated sediments in the Charles.

CRWA, along with the Town of Medfield and local residents, advocated for full riverfront and sediment cleanup of the former Hospital by the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). In 2012, CRWA filed a wetlands appeal on behalf of itself and The Trustees of Reservations, which owns land across the river. This appeal ultimately led to negotiations between the Town and DCAAM that have resulted in an agreement to restore the riverfront and to remove the contaminated sediments from the Charles. The restoration plan not only protects the environment, but also promotes new recreational opportunities.

DCAMM completed the project in autumn 2015 after having excavated 30,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris and waste adjacent to the Charles River, restoring 3 acres of wetlands and riverine habitat, and creating 4.5 million gallons of floodplain storage that will help protect downstream communities from flooding. The new Medfield Charles River Gateway, created as a result of the cleanup, protects drinking water, provides new parkland, recreational trails, and a canoe launch, and controls storm-water runoff. This project is the largest environmental restoration project in the Charles River Watershed and serves as a model for future river cleanups. 

Photo gallery showing the site before, during and after restoration

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  • Before Restoration
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
  • Medfield State Hospital - Charles River Watershed Association
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  • Rain Garden
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Photos courtesy of The Trustess of Reservations, The Garden Continuum and Bill Massaro

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Daly Field

Daly Field - Law, Advocacy & Policy
Daly Field - Law, Advocacy & Policy

As the health and vitality of the Charles River dramatically improves, there is increasing pressure from private entities to develop along the riverbank. Daly Field, over seven acres of public parkland in Brighton along the Charles River, is slated to become a high-intensity sports complex with exclusive use hours for Simmons College on weekdays and a number of weekends.  

In 2012, CRWA tried unsuccessfully to prevent the passage of state legislation converting this parkland and authorizing the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to enter into a 20-year lease of the park. The bill, which was introduced at the end of the legislative session, and without any environmental analyses, effectively shuts the public out of primetime use on weeknights and significantly limits weekend use during spring and fall. The Act calls for a one-time payment by Simmons to DCR totaling $500,000, or less than $1,400 per month for its use of over seven acres of riverfront parkland!

CRWA and citizens successfully advocated for a full state environmental review of the proposed development in 2013. CRWA, in partnership with the Environmental League of Massachusetts, continues to work to ensure that the project minimizes impacts to the environment, and provides fair public use and compensation for the loss of public parkland.

For more information on CRWA's efforts to preserve public parkland at Daly Field, visit the links below:

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About Law, Advocacy & Policy

Project Manager

Margaret Van Deusen, Esq. - Law, Advocacy & Policy
Margaret Van Deusen, Esq.
Deputy Director and General Counsel 
Bio | 781.788.0007 x234 | Email

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