A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change

The following news is reprinted with permission from the Mystic River Watershed Association:

For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.


This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort—from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.

Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA’s Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.
The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn’s Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.

One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn’s Brook, Wellington Brook—and the Mystic River itself—over the next five years!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.

It’s Midnight. Know Where Your Regional Floodplain Forest Is?


Regional Floodplain Forest for Arlington, Belmont, and Cambridge Massachusetts

Addendum 8/6/14:

In the post below, I alluded to the long history of the floodplain forest which is likely to be cut down shortly, but I agree with those who have gently suggested I had not effectively pointed readers in the right direction for further information. The Friends of Alewife (FAR) maintains a web site which is the first place to stop to get more information, follow the campaign, and find ways to support the integrity of the parcel. It can be found at friendsofalewifereservation.org. Friends of Alewife also posts on Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, FAR has been the leader in defending the 15 acres owned by O’Neill Properties in Belmont, Arlington, and Cambridge (3 acres in Cambridge, to be precise) from habitat destruction and development, notwithstanding the good efforts of other neighbors and organizations such as Green Cambridge, the Belmont Citizens’ Forum, and theCoalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands. In addition to these organizations’ sites, further information and a petition is also posted on a site compiled by Cambridge lawyer Mike Connolly,  silvermapleforest.org. Meanwhile, the meeting described below, between Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi and his counterparts in Arlington and Belmont, has been scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 7, at Cambridge City Hall. The meeting is not public (see below).

On Monday, July 28th, Cambridge city councillors downshifted a proposed policy order that would have paved the way for an open meeting with Belmont and Arlington regarding an area that has been dubbed the Silver Maple Forest. What’s at stake is storm water management in future flood scenarios and the consequent health, safety,  engineering, and local economic issues that depend on decisions made today. The policy order, originally sponsored by City Councillor Dennis Carlone, concerns a parcel of  land abutting Alewife Reservation that is due to be cleared of trees by a developer for a nearly 300-unit residence by the end of August. An open meeting proposed in the original order won’t be happening. Instead, Cambridge’s city manager is charged merely to approach his colleagues in the other municipalities regarding a collective effort to stave off the destruction of this critical floodplain forest. There’s a long history of battles over this piece of land.  If you care to delve further, see the  state’s 2003 master plan for the area. Numerous experts, most recently five professors at Lesley University,  have testified in support of the ecological and economic value of the floodplain forest (let’s call it that, in our next breath, after the mellifluous and evocative “Silver Maple Forest”).

“Urban forests are one of the major ways cities can mitigate the effects of increasing temperatures due to climate change; large forest reserves and their surrounding areas average 1–3 degrees cooler than the rest of the city and the larger the forest the greater the effect.” (Letter to Cambridge Community Preservation Committee Chair Lisa Peterson, June 18, 2014, by Professors Amy Mertl, David Morimoto, Jeffrey Perrin, and Albert Liau of Lesley University)

These same authors extrapolate from existing studies on Boston and other urban areas that  the annual savings to Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington, if the site remains forested, total

  • $1M per year in flood damage avoidance measures;
  • $50K per year in cooling costs; and
  • $30K per year in air quality remediation.

Let’s call the Silver Maple Forest our regional floodplain forest.  Let’s also call on the city leaders not to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. At its July 28th meeting, the City Council did vote to take a partial step in the right direction—calling the attention of the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation to the outdated rainfall predictions that were used when the proposed development was approved. Here’s what you can do:

  • If you vote or will vote in Cambridge municipal elections, let your city councillors know that the byzantine history of the Alewife area nor its romantic qualities should put them off  wise action on behalf of all of Cambridge’s citizens for generations to come—halting the imminent removal of the regional floodplain forest. The entire city council can be reached via  council@cambridgema.gov.  Individual councillors email addresses and phone numbers are available on this page. Thank them for recommending to the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation that the  developer be required to prove its proposed construction storm-worthy using up-to-date predictions of extreme precipitation events (More information here).
  • Take the  Friends of Alewife’s  Virtual Tour of Alewife Reservation (PDF).
  • Read the gory details:  Technical Analysis Upper Alewife Brook Basin Impact Study (2012).
  • Tell the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee that you support setting aside funds to purchase the Silver Maple ForestFriends of the Alewife Reservation has petitioned the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee to set aside funds to help purchase the Silver Maple Forest for conservation land. You can support this effort by emailing Karen Preval (kpreval@cambridgema.gov) and Committee chair Lisa Peterson (lisap@cambridgema.gov) to say you value this unique floodplain forest and support the committee setting aside funds.Emails must be received by August 5th. 
  • Stay in touch with the Friends of Alewife on its “news and events” page. The public may accompany wildlife assessor Dave Brown on a walk through the reservation  on August 23, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. Future events will also be found at that link.


Wetland Love: A Local Shindig with “The Loomers,” March 1, 2014

I’m passing along an announcement of an upcoming event:

The Coalition is currently challenging a sprawling housing development with nearly 300 units and 600 parking spaces proposed to lie in the middle of the forest and encroaching on the surrounding wetlands.  The mostly upmarket housing development would fragment wildlife corridors and degrade the natural value of the surrounding 120-acre Alewife Reservation.  Friends of Alewife Reservation, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and local environmental groups are opposed to the development.  It would also adversely affect surrounding neighborhoods by increasing flooding in Little Pond, increasing air and water pollution and increasing traffic congestion as far as the Fresh Pond Rotary.

Expert naturalists, hydrologists, and wetlands scientists supported the 20 faults listed in the Belmont Conservation Commission’s findings against the development.  The Belmont Conservation Commission had  challenged the development from 2007-2013. The Coalition continues to challenge the development.

via Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands – Coalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands.


Just-in-Time: Tomorrow’s Environmental Forum on Alewife Reservation

A six-member group of scientists will be part of the “Three Towns, One Forest”, a regional environmental forum taking place on April 25 at 7 p.m. at Lesley University Hall’s Amphitheater in Cambridge, 1815 Massachusetts Ave.

The panel group will discuss the conservation value and future of the state-owned Alewife Reservation and its abutting Silver Maple Forest at the Belmont Uplands, a land and river confluence between Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington, according to a press release.

In the age of climate change, the speakers will focus on Wetlands Protection Act regulations and hydrological concepts that could be activated to preserve the silver maple forest and its surrounding floodplain in the Mystic River watershed. Community initiatives will be suggested to preserve these New England natural resources.

The event is open to the university body and to the public.

Featured expert speakers include EK Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic Watershed Association; Scott Horsley, hydrologist of Horsley and Witten Group and Tufts faculty; Minka vanBeuzekom, Cambridge city councilor; David Morimoto, director of Lesley’s Natural Science and Mathematics Department; Lucia Lovison, geophysicist and instructor at Harvard’s School of Continuing Education; and Mike Nakagawa, biomedical engineer and board member of Alewife Neighbors, Inc.

The Forum is moderated by Amy Mertl, biology professor at Lesley.

Sponsors include Lesley University, Friends of Alewife Reservation, and Green Cambridge, and co-­sponsors include a number of local Boston-­wide environmental organizations.

via Environmental forum on Alewife Reservation at Lesley University – Arlington – Your Town – Boston.com.

Exploring the Urban Outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.: Events

 BOTANY WALK, April 26, 1 p.m.

Botanist Walter Kittredge is conducting a region-wide herbarium project to bring attention to the local New England flora, its presence and value, and is looking closely at vegetation at Alewife Reservation. Walter is Senior Curatorial Assistant at the Harvard University Herbaria, a world-wide research collection of over 5 million dried plant specimens.Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation. (usual time for this monthly event, beginning in June, will be the First Friday of the Month, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm)

Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Maynard Ecology Center, lower level of Neville Place
650 Concord Avenue
When you and your dog visit Fresh Pond Reservation, your dog is probably far more aware than you are that the Reservation is the home of coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, and many smaller mammals. Sightings of wild animals, especially coyotes, are increasing and have raised concerns about what we should do when we encounter these critters. John Maguranis is the Belmont Animal Control Officer and the Massachusetts representative for Project Coyote (www.projectcoyote.org). He will share with us his knowledge and experiences, tell us about coyote behavior, and instruct us on pet and human safety.  After the formal presentation, we’ll walk outside (weather permitting) to look for coyote tracks. Please register. You will receive important information on parking after you register. E-mail Elizabeth Wylde at friendsoffreshpond@yahoo.com or call 617- 349-6489 and leave your name and phone number.



Join Anne Marie Lambert for a guided walk through Alewife Reservation with Poet Richard Cambridge and Frederick Law Olmstead re-enactor Gerald Wright.  Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation and the Cambridge Citizens Forum.  Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Families welcome. Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Nick Woebske and Galen Mook lead a bike tour at dusk around the perimeter of the Alewife Reservation.  Edible plant expert David Craft will educate riders on the vast amount of edible plants in the area at periodic stops.  Sponsored by the Friends of Alewife Reservation. Participants will meet at the at the passenger pickup of the AlewifeT-stop in Cambridge. Visit the Friends of Alewife Reservation’s site for updated information or call (617) 415-1884.



February 11 and February 16 Environmental Events in Greater Cambridge

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is wildlife.
Climate Change in the Mystic River Watershed: Vulnerabilities & Adaptation StrategiesJoin the Mystic River Watershed Association for a special presentation by Paul Kirshen, PhD, Research Professor at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire on February 11th.
Dr. Kirshen will address the impacts of Climate Change that one can expect to see in the Mystic River Watershed and how local water quality will be affected.
When: Monday, February 11th, 7:00PM
Where: Tufts University, Anderson Hall, Nelson Auditorium, Medford, MA
This free event is part of the Mystic River Clean Water Campaign. Learn more about the campaign and get involved see http://mysticriver.org/
  • Location: Tufts University, Anderson Hall, Nelson

Alewife Reservation Guided Walks

of Friends of Alewife Reservation

February 16, 1-3 pm.
This walk will take us to the less-visited south side of the park to the vicinity of Lily Pond. Along the way we will discuss remediation of the storm water project. We will also observe the strategies of predators and prey to find food and survive in a snow-covered land

at Alewife
Alewife Reservation, March 2011


March 23, 1-3 pm.
As the various habitats in the reservation shake off the winter cold and come alive, we will look for signs of emerging spring both for plants and wild animals that make the reservation home. We will also keep an eye out for early migrants that use the park as a stopping and refueling station.

Anne Marie Lambert walks
– Saturday January 26 starting at 9:30, focus on poetry

Directions, Map and Parking Info for Alewife Reservation