Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019

Save the Alewife Brook members Gwendolyn Speeth, a former East Arlington resident, and Kristin Anderson, Precinct 11 Town Meeting member, discussed the urgent need for improvements to Alewife Brook at the Select Board’s June 27 meeting.

Save the Alewife Brook, a grass-roots organization, works to address the brook’s flooding and water quality.

“I’ve been working to stop the sewage discharge into Alewife Brook because I’m concerned about the danger of flooding in my old neighborhood,” said Speeth.  

DCR approves Save the Alewife Brook’s application; $25K needed

The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) recently selected Save the Alewife Brook’s application for funding — and will now work with the group to update the 2003 Alewife Brook master plan to address issues of water quality, water management and flood prevention. DCR representatives will help lay out the project’s specifics, including budgeting and acquiring permits. 

“With renewed community interest from abutters, commuters and neighbors who enjoy this lovely urban green space, this is a perfect time to work with the DCR to implement the improvements envisioned since 2003,” said Speeth. 

DCR’s matching-grants program allows local groups and communities to request improvements in DCR-managed properties. It is offering Arlington a 2-to-1 match if the town can find $25,000 in seed money. If so, the amount would become $75,000, with which the DCR believes it can survey the entire area along the brook. 

“Performing an up-to-date survey is an essential first step toward the actual implementation of these sorely needed improvements,” added Speeth. 

Projects listed

Save the Alewife Brook hopes to complete the following projects:  

  • Revitalize Arlington’s cattail marsh,
  • Improve the brook’s capacity as a protective storm-water wetland habitat for the myriad bird species,
  • Repair the crumbling walls by the cemetery and nearby sidewalk, 
  • Dredge the brook to remove sediment and other materials that prevent it from flowing and increase the flood risk and
  • Stabilize the bank using native species to lower flood risk and help manage storm water.

 “A lot of work needs to be done. The DCR will define the study, in consultation with us and presumably experts in the town. I hope the Select Board can help determine where the $25,000 can be found.”

The rough deadline is July 14, although the DCR has not yet given us a specific date, Speeth said.

Called 'good investment'

Select Board member Diane Mahon called $25,000 “a lot of money, but it’s a good investment for something that has to be done.”

Town Counsel Doug Heim said that Arlington might be able to identify some funding sources, within or outside of the town, that could help with this project. “But I’ll need to investigate whether these types of funds could be used for this purpose,” he said.

Board member John Hurd said: “It’s exciting, after several years of talking about this, to hear some affirmative steps toward progress. The money would be well spent if we could find it in the town budget through grant status, because we have such an aggressive timeline.”

Hurd also asked whether any organizations can help with funding.

“Arlington’s Planning Department is aware of potential grant-funding sources. However, we need to make sure any sources match up with this timeline,” explained Heim. 

Sewer improvements needed

Somerville and Cambridge, along with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), are starting to plan new sewer improvements that affect Alewife Brook. 

“Last year, more than 50 million gallons of untreated sewage pollution was dumped into Alewife Brook. This is a terrible situation. Cambridge has done some great work to make improvements over the years. However, Somerville’s Tannery Brook sewer outfall is awful, and not in compliance with the law,” said Anderson. 

Anderson also said that Alewife Brook’s biggest problem is the MWRA’s sewer system, which needs major upgrades. “We want sewage polluters to make the public a partner in the new control plan, and that the MRWA incorporates climate-change projections in their plan design.”

Heim said that the Select Board, along with Arlington’s government, is concerned about the overflows, outfalls and the MWRA’s proposals. “It would be helpful if Select Board members could provide a written position that ensures the modeling is updated to reflect the impact of climate change, taking a more aggressive posture with respect to water quality,” he said.

More from the June 27 board meeting will be reported.

See the ACMi video of the June 27 Select Board meeting:

This news summary, by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert, was published Friday, July 1, 2022. 

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