CRWA is laying the groundwork for a system-wide approach to climate change preparedness, working to support current systems so they may cope with and rebound from major storm events.
We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change on the Charles River and surrounding communities--impacts that are predicted to increase as we approach mid-century. A 2012 study by the Frontier Group and Environment America, “When it Rains it Pours,” concluded large precipitation events happening once every 12 months are now happening every nine months. New England has experienced the greatest change, with intense rainstorms and snowstorms now happening 85 percent more often than in 1948.
These more frequent, violent storms, like hurricanes and new kinds of nor’easters, will cause catastrophic flooding, combined sewer and sanitary sewer overflows, water pollution, and extended drought and heat. Ecosystem impacts will be inevitable.
Although the Massachusetts Climate Change Adaptation Report was released in 2011, no implementation plan exists today and vulnerable infrastructure in the Charles River has not been assessed in the context of risk management. While studies have been done on sea level rise in the Boston metropolitan area, a study of the combined effects of sea level rise and Charles River flood flows resulting from extreme storm events has not been performed.
CRWA's Climate Change Adaptation project explores opportunities for flood storage in the urbanized greater Boston area, including the development of green infrastructure plans, the re-purposing of sewers, and even extreme approaches such as using parkways, tunnels, and streets for emergency flood relief.
Working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CRWA is also evaluating opportunities to expand and improve the Natural Valley Storage Area – 8,100 acres of wetlands in the upper watershed protected from development in the 1970’s and largely owned by the Corps.
These wetlands provide critical flood storage capacity and tremendous water quality and habitat enhancement benefits while mitigating the extreme flow variability caused by development and impervious cover.
Additional focus is on the region’s infrastructure, particularly the New Charles River Dam, constructed in 1976, and operated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). This key flood control dam separates the Charles from Boston Harbor. CRWA is laying the groundwork for a system-wide approach to climate change preparedness, working to support systems that can manage well in predicted future “typical” conditions and will be able to cope with and rebound from major storm events.