Climate Study Urges State to Strengthen Boston Flood Controls

March 1, 2019

By Chris Lisinski

State House News Service

BOSTON -- A day after the Conservation Law Foundation warned in a report that 37 acres of open space in Boston will face flooding risks due to climate change, Boston’s environment commissioner described it as a “very useful contribution” that echoed many of the city’s findings.

The report released Wednesday outlined challenges Boston faces as sea levels are set to rise in the coming years and how regulations should be updated in response. CLF examined 62 sites covered by the state’s Public Waterfront Act and found that between 61 percent and 94 percent of them will face new flooding risks.

For Carl Spector, Boston’s environment commissioner, the group’s findings did not come as a surprise.

“The broad conclusions are very consistent with work that we’ve already done here in the city,” he said. “It’s a very useful contribution to further analyzing regulatory responses and preparing the city and Commonwealth of Massachusetts for climate change. It’s going to involve continued discussions between the Commonwealth, between the city and other municipalities along the coast.”

Spector said city officials have been planning for years to deal specifically with changing sea levels given the proximity of harbors and waterways to major areas of Boston. The city has already prepared maps of what floods might look like in 2070 and resiliency studies for individual neighborhoods.

Last year, Mayor Marty Walsh unveiled his Resilient Boston Harbor plan, which recommends investments in waterfront parks, raised landscapes and flood-resistant buildings.

Researchers at CLF found the open-space areas facing flooding risks tend to be new areas connected to waterfront development. The group suggested updates to state practices to modernize standards for new risks and to encourage the state to consider stricter flood-control measures during construction planning.

That goal could be accomplished by changes to definitions within waterway regulations and an emphasis on flood-control measures. The CLF report said its proposal would not require a legislative change to the Public Waterfront Act.

“The public can’t access protected public spaces if they are underwater,” said CLF President Bradley Campbell in a press release announcing the report. “Rising seas and more intense storms are already inundating parks and developed properties once safely above the tide line -- a sobering glimpse of the more dramatic changes to come. It’s up to our elected officials to protect these public spaces and all of our waterfront neighborhoods from the looming risks of climate change before it’s too late.”