Former Harbor Advocate Hired by MyRWA to Address Coastal Flooding in Charlestown

July 7, 2018
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The Mystic River Watershed Council (MyRWA) has taking another big step in addressing sea-level change in Charlestown and along the Mystic River, hiring the former director of the Boston Harbor Association/Boston Harbor

The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) recently received a Barr Foundation grant to address coastal flooding in places like Charlestown. The grant allowed them to hire Julie Wormser, former director of Boston Harbor Association/Boston Harbor NOW. She is shown here talking about ideas for the Mystic River at the Charlestown kick-off on June 14.

NOW to lead the new focus.

On the heels of record-setting flood events in January and March 2018, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) announced this week that it is updating its core mission and resources to help municipalities manage the extreme weather associated with climate change.

MyRWA has won a Barr Foundation grant to update the mission, and has hired Julie Wormser to head up the effort. Wormser made her first public appearance with MyRWA at the Charlestown Lower Mystic kick-off on June 14.
“Slowing down climate change is all about managing energy,” said Patrick Herron, MyRWA’s executive director.  “Adapting to climate change is all about managing water—both flooding and drought. Water is something that we have thought about for over four decades.”

Wormser comes with some very interesting ideas for Charlestown and the entire Mystic River corridor. She said preparing today for tomorrow’s floods doesn’t always mean large walls. In fact, she said her focus has been on creating amenities now that could act as flood protection in the future. She listed things such as a waterfront concert amphitheater or new playing fields.

“The whole idea is to make room for the River in a beautiful way,” she said. “When rainfall becomes very unpredictable, it can be very destructive and we have to make more space. We can do that by creating amenities for the community that we can use when there is no flooding problems, but that also serve as a way to protect from flooding when it’s needed.

“None of the cost-benefits analyses would suggest doing that, but they know they have to do it,” she continued. “We know we have to protect from flooding and if the only way to get a grant is to show results, then let’s build the bike path, let’s have a living shoreline, let’s create a waterfront amphitheatre, let’s put in playing fields. The community gets benefits and the land owners gets better property protections.”

She said this is one way to look at getting benefits in Designated Port Areas (DPA) like Charlestown’s Mystic River waterfront without engaging in a fight or having to embark on the complicated process of re-opening the DPA.
Herron said they wanted to address climate change and sea level rise in Charlestown and beyond, but didn’t have the resources. With the Barr Foundation grant, they were able to go out and get an expert in Wormser.
The Mystic River watershed spans 21 cities and towns from Woburn through Revere, including Charlestown. This spring, MyRWA staff met with nearly 50 state and local stakeholders to best understand how a regional watershed association could help municipalities become more resilient to flooding, drought and heat.
“We heard over and over from cities and towns that they can’t manage flooding from just within their municipal boundaries,” explained Herron. “Stormwater flooding in Medford for example, has its origins in upstream communities. Coastal storms below the Amelia Earhart Dam, like Charlestown, threaten both New England’s largest produce distribution center and Logan Airport’s jet fuel supply.”
Based on this feedback, MyRWA requested and received a $115,000 grant from the Barr Foundation that will allow the non-profit to work with municipalities, businesses and community organizations on an action-oriented, regional, climate resilience strategy for the Mystic River Watershed.

“The Barr Foundation’s climate resilience grantmaking has historically focused on Boston. Yet, we know climate change is no respecter of city boundaries. If some act in isolation, neighboring communities could actually become more vulnerable,” said Mary Skelton Roberts, co-director of Barr’s Climate Program. “It is our privilege to support MyRWA’s efforts to advance solutions at a more expansive, watershed scale.”
As executive director of The Boston Harbor Association, Wormser was instrumental in in drawing attention to Boston’s need to prepare for coastal flooding from extreme storms and sea level rise.  She coauthored Preparing for the Rising Tide and Designing With Water and co-led the Boston Living with Water international design competition with the City of Boston and Boston Society of Architects.

She joined MyRWA as its deputy director on July 1.
“Three of the U.S. cities most engaged in climate preparedness—Boston, Cambridge and Somerville—are located in the Mystic River Watershed,” said Wormser. “This grant will allow us collectively to share information and lessons learned since Superstorm Sandy with lower-resourced municipalities.  By working regionally and with the State, we can also create multiple benefit solutions such as riverfront greenways that double as flood protection. It’s very inspiring.”