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Understanding the Natural Valley Storage Area
After a year of research, we are pleased to release the Charles River Natural Valley Storage Area (NVSA) Health Assessment, a critical report on the vulnerabilities of wetlands to climate change and development that recommends immediate restoration efforts to preserve and promote climate resilience. 
The Natural Valley Storage Area (NVSA), a network of 8,100 acres of preserved wetlands that provides significant flood mitigation for Boston and other cities in the Charles River watershed, is threatened by the many effects of development such as invasive species growth, loss of biodiversity, reduced riparian habitat, low streamflow, and poor water quality. This crucial research, funded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust, focused on an especially vulnerable priority area in Franklin, MA, and confirmed action is needed to rehabilitate coldwater fish populations, mitigate stormwater pollution, improve water quality, and restore biodiversity.
“Wetlands act like sponges, protecting downstream communities from flooding, which is becoming increasingly important as climate change brings more intense precipitation to New England. They also provide critical habitat refuges for wildlife and native plants. This pilot health assessment confirms that overdevelopment in parts of our watershed is threatening the health of these critical wetlands,” said River Science Program Manager Lisa Kumpf.  
The project included stream health assessments such as a survey of fish population, habitat assessments, and river bug sampling, which all found that Dix Brook, a tributary of Mine Brook and the Charles River, is degraded. The study also included a vegetation health assessment using drone imagery and NDVI satellite image processing that confirmed vegetative health has sharply declined in the last 35 years as rapid development altered surrounding areas and placed greater stresses on the wetland ecosystem.
These trends are likely evident across the Natural Valley Storage Area wetlands, providing a stark prediction for the climate resilience of the watershed as a whole as increased precipitation in the northeast brings more floodwaters.

“The Natural Valley Storage Area wetlands are a shining example of natural climate resilience that we must actively protect from surrounding development,” says Kumpf.
Read the full report here and explore the NVSA StoryMap to learn more.
Harmful “Forever Chemicals” Poisoning Water Supplies
Thank you to U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark for shining a spotlight on harmful PFAS contamination in our rivers and drinking water supplies, and ensuring the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill set aside $10B for testing and treating PFAS contamination. Executive Director Emily Norton joined US Rep. Clark, Natick State Rep. David Linsky, Select Board members from Wayland and Natick, and other local leaders at a press conference at South Natick Dam to announce federal funding to help watershed communities deal with PFAS contamination. 

PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of chemicals widely used in consumer products still being manufactured in spite of demonstrated risk of causing cancer, thyroid disease, reproductive disorders, and more. Called “forever chemicals”, PFAS compounds never break down and remain present in groundwater, surface waters, and the human body. 

Within the Charles River watershed, drinking water supplies in Natick and Wellesley had PFAS levels above the level deemed safe by MassDEP, and testing found elevated PFAS levels in 27 rivers across the state, including the Charles.

Clean water is a basic necessity for life and our communities deserve protection from harmful PFAS forever chemicals. Funding from the infrastructure bill will allow states, cities, and towns to begin the daunting task of addressing widespread PFAS contamination. Watch the full press conference, and read coverage in the Natick Report, Natick Patch, and Framingham Source. 
News at a Glance
  • On December 7, General Counsel & Policy Director Heather Miller testified in support of an Act Responding to the Threat of Invasive Species (H.999/S.563) to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. All across Massachusetts, our rivers are plagued with the rampant growth of invasive species that are extremely harmful to our delicate ecosystems. They reduce biodiversity, damage water quality, harm vital mature trees, and overtake our forests and rivers. If passed, the bill would support a coordinated statewide response to invasive species, which is needed more than ever as climate change and nutrient pollution fuel their growth. Read the full testimony. 

  • On December 6, CRWA hosted a webinar about removing the Watertown dam with speakers Beth Lambert, Director of the Mass Division of Ecological Restoration (DER), and Ben Gahagan, Diadromous Fish Biologist at the Mass Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), who presented the numerous benefits and considerations to dam removal, including reinstating migratory fish passage, restoring the ecosystem, and protecting downstream communities from catastrophic flooding. 

  • CRWA was featured in WGBH ’s “Local governments staff up, team up to confront climate change”, in particular our Charles River Flood Model and Charles River Climate Compact. As climate change threatens our communities, collaboration across boundaries is essential for preparing for increased precipitation and inland flooding. “When you’re talking about some of the impacts that are expected from climate change, while they are local, they are not necessarily jurisdictional. They’re not necessarily defined by political boundaries,” said Julie Wood, Deputy Director at CRWA. “And flooding, of course, is a prime example of that. Flooding doesn’t stop at one town boundary.” 

  • Program Associate for Community Resilience Dira Johanif and Climate Resilience Specialist Robert Kearns launched the River Advocates Volunteer Program, training a new cohort of watershed residents on how to achieve the implementation of climate-smart practices in their communities. Learn more about CRWA’s River Advocates program and watch the full training.

  • The DCR Special Commission released its report making recommendations for improvements to the state agency. As the largest landowner in the Commonwealth, DCR has the power to have a significant impact on the quality of life of all Massachusetts residents in terms of protecting clean water, preparing for climate change, fighting invasive species, and improving on its existing recreational offerings. However, the agency is chronically underfunded and under-resourced, an issue highlighted throughout the report. We look forward to working with the agency and the legislature to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations are implemented and DCR fulfills its critical mission.

  • We had the opportunity to tour green infrastructure installations in Franklin with DPW Director Robert “Brutus” Cantoreggi, town staff, and team members. Green infrastructure installations like rain gardens, infiltration chambers, and depaving and narrowing roads are important nature-based solutions that filter stormwater, recharge groundwater, provide habitat, and beautify our communities. Kudos to Franklin for creating a more climate-resilient, clean, healthy Charles River watershed.

  • The Urban Waters Learning Network published a wonderful piece From the Community to the EPA: Boston Area River Report Cards featuring the three Boston area watershed groups (CRWA, Mystic River Watershed Association, and Neponset River Watershed Association) and our work to gather water quality data and partner with US EPA to issue a river letter grade each year. The article highlights the dedication of our Volunteer Monthly Monitor (VMM) samplers whose efforts make the annual grades possible. Explore CRWA’s 2020 Charles River Report Card results.
Happy Holidays from CRWA!
As we reflect back on 2021, a year like none other, we want to take a moment to share our deepest gratitude with all who have dedicated their time and support to CRWA this year.

From our hard-working volunteers to our loyal donors, thank you for being part of the CRWA community. Our critical work would not be possible without you. Happy holidays to you and yours and we look forward to working together in the new year.

(And as if we didn’t have enough going on in 2021… we moved our office from Weston to Boston in September!)
River Reads
How rising groundwater caused by climate change could...

Skip to Content Higher sea levels will push the water table up with them, causing flooding, contamination, and all manner of unseen chaos. Fae Saulenas does not want your sympathy. Saulenas, along with her 46-year-old daughter Lauren, spent last...

Read more
This sobering article from Kendra Pierre-Louis highlights the lesser-known impact of climate change—rising groundwater— as climate change causes sea levels to swell and raise the water table in coastal areas. Rising groundwater is an emerging threat to our homes and critical infrastructure like sewers, heating, and subways.

"For something you’ve probably never heard about, rising groundwater presents a real, and potentially catastrophic, threat to our infrastructure. Roadways will be eroded from below; septic systems won’t drain; seawalls will keep the ocean out but trap the water seeping up, leading to more flooding. Home foundations will crack; sewers will backflow and potentially leak toxic gases into people’s homes."
Intern Spotlight
With heavy hearts, we say goodbye to another cohort of interns. This Fall, Sylvie Ficco and Henry Torpey provided important support for our work by processing water quality data, analyzing vegetation health, and supporting our fieldwork programs.

As the GIS Intern, Sylvie Ficco, a junior at Framingham State University studying GIS and Spatial Analysis, used her skills to assess the vegetation health of the Natural Valley Storage Area and the watershed as a whole to better understand how changes in land use and development have affected the Charles River ecosystem over time. In addition, Sylvie sampled benthic macroinvertebrates and conducted habitat assessments at Dix Brook in her hometown of Franklin, MA.

As the Watershed Science Intern, Henry Torpey, a senior at Endicott College studying Environmental Science and participating in the Semester in the City program, used water quality monitoring data and the Integrated List of Impaired Waters to identify tributaries of the Charles River that would benefit from assessment and monitoring. In addition, Henry conducted E. coli sampling for the Flagging Program and plans to continue working with E. coli data for his thesis project on climate change and the Charles River.
Thank you to the Foundation for MetroWest for their generous award of a $30,000 multi-year grant from the 2021 Environment Grant Program to support our continued work to build climate resilience with the Charles River Climate Compact (CRCC), a watershed-wide collaboration to plan for and adapt to our changing climate. We are so thankful for this critical funding for our work in the Metrowest region.

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Tilia Jacobs, a longtime CRWA member and loyal supporter for over 20 years, who recently donated a significant gift of stock. We greatly appreciate her dedication to protecting and preserving the Charles River for generations to come.

Did you know that gifting stock is one of the smartest ways to give back?! By donating stock that has appreciated for more than a year, a donor is actually able to give 20% more than if they sold that stock and then made a cash donation. You also can avoid capital gains and deduct 100% of the total current value of your contributions - that’s tax savings in two ways! Explore the many ways to give as we ring in the New Year!

Many thanks to a group of CRWA’s Board of Advisors for combining their contributions to CRWA to support a Matching Gift Challenge! This generous group of individuals decided they were going to match every gift made to CRWA, dollar for dollar, up to $6,000, ending on December 31, 2021 to kick off the New Year! We’d also like to thank all the donors that made a gift in honor of this match challenge. Your generosity has surpassed $6,000, bringing in over $12,000 to CRWA!
Get Involved
Stay tuned for a big announcement in January! We are finalizing the date for the 23rd Annual Charles River Cleanup with partners Charles River Conservancy, Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Esplanade Association, and Waltham Land Trust. Did you know the Charles River Cleanup is one of the largest Earth Day Cleanups in the country? Learn about the five most common cleanup finds from American Rivers and get inspired about reducing waste in the New Year with CLF’s Zero Waste Project.

In Natick, the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee is continuing to explore removing the South Natick Dam. An upcoming zoom meeting on January 25, 2022, from 4-6 pm will consider how repairing the dam or removing the spillway and restoring the river could impact recreation and community use on the Charles River, in the South Natick Dam Park, and in Grove Park. Share your input on Community Use & Recreation by January 16, 2022.

Save the Date! On Friday, January 21, 2022, we will be presenting “The Case for Removing Watertown Dam” to the Charles River Regional Chamber at 11 am. Join Climate Resilience Specialist Robert Kearns and Deputy Director Julie Wood for a discussion of why removing our aging, defunct mill dams is necessary to protect public safety, restore the Charles River ecosystem, and enhance climate resilience. Register today!
Charles River Watershed Association |
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