Thursday, April 22, 2010

High water, low water: Aftermath of Charles River flooding

(Update at bottom of post) Last month it rained in our neck of the woods. A lot. At the time, I tweeted that more than 8 inches of rain over three days seemed excessive, but the aftermath was terrible. We live close to the Charles River, and problems at a dam downstream in Waltham caused major flooding upstream during the storm and during the days that followed. Most houses close to the river were impacted, typically by flooded basements, but I also know of one house that got a few inches of rain on the first floor. Sodden piles of rugs on the curb and hoses running from basements to the streets were normal sights around here for about two weeks.

But that wasn't the end of it. A few days ago, the following message was sent around the neighborhood, along with a powerpoint presentation that illustrate another dam-related problem -- this time with low-water levels (click the arrows at the bottom of the slideshow to see the muddy evidence):

Concerns About Moody Street Dam

I am very concerned about the state of the Moody Street Dam in Waltham which is allowing excessive flow of the Charles River so that the level of the Charles River (in the so-called Lakes District) is at unprecedented lows.

To help with recent flooding, flashboards were removed from the dam. This helped during high waters but the boards were not returned and consequently the tip of the dam is substantially lowered.

I have been measuring the level of Charles waters above the Moody dam for years, and the water level is being lowered by about 2 inches per day. We are currently at mid summer [low] levels with no end in sight of slowing the rate of flow. This will result in large mud flats near areas like Norumbega recreation area in Auburndale and other areas of Newton that border the Charles. This is disruptive for recreation users, for wildlife, for reasons of smell and ugliness.

I have attached pictures of the dam from last year and of a few days ago. Large mud flats are already visible—unprecedented for this time of year. Large parts of Ware’s Cove will have mud patches as well as other shallow areas around Norumbega.

This is a very serious issue. I attempted to try to get the dam attended to last year and now this year the situation is far worse. The DCR has been unresponsive to my efforts at communication. City and State officials need to be contacted so that they can try to get some remedial action on the Waltham Dam.

Michael St. Clair
I'm posting his email and the slideshow he provided with his permission. He added in a message to me that "The levels are the lowest I've ever seen them in 30+ years":

Charles River flooding and aftermath: Problems at the Moody St Dam 2010

The reference to government inaction on the dam despite his warnings is disturbing. Besides the flood damage and environmental problems here, people living downstream were affected, too. Homes were flooded, the Charles River Museum of Industry was heavily damaged and a worker risked his life in an attempt to fix the Moody Street dam during the storm.

The tale is a reminder that despite our high-tech lives, we are sometimes at the mercy of mother nature and low-tech controls.

Update: Via Universal Hub, news that the DCR recognizes the problem and will further lower the Charles to inspect the Moody Street dam on Sunday night.

I often blog about technology, but here are a few other posts about Newton, Waltham, and Boston:

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