Adaptation Planning and Action in the Mystic River Watershed

Created: 10/13/2021 - Updated: 11/15/2021

Summary

The Resilient Mystic Collaborative, coordinated by the Mystic River Watershed Association, is a regional partnership among 21 municipalities in southeastern Massachusetts working to decrease risks associated with flooding, drought, extreme heat, storms, and sea level rise. The Collaborative’s inland and coastal flooding programs facilitate adaptation in the region through vulnerability assessments, scenario planning, knowledge sharing, advocacy, and the implementation of nature-based solutions.

Background

After Hurricane Sandy hit Massachusetts in 2012, the Boston Harbor Association released the Preparing for a Rising Tide report, which increased neighborhood-level conversations about climate change impacts. The Mystic River Watershed Association (MRWA) used this report to connect with cities and towns in the watershed to discuss climate change concerns and identify priorities, challenges, and potential solutions. This laid the groundwork for MRWA to launch the Resilient Mystic Collaborative (RMC or the Collaborative) in 2018 as a way to help municipalities advance local and regional adaptation. RMC is a voluntary regional partnership among 21 municipalities working to address climate change impacts, such as inland and coastal flooding, drought, extreme heat, storms, sea level rise, and storm surge.

RMC’s work includes urban adaptation and resilience-building through nature-based solutions. The Collaborative has four working groups that focus on specific priorities: Social Resilience, Advocacy and Outreach, Lower Mystic, and Upper Mystic. The Social Resilience working group focuses on increasing community resilience to extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, chronic flooding, and storms. For example, partners created the Wicked Hot Mystic project, which maps local urban heat islands; these maps will help determine the cost-effectiveness of various adaptation interventions. The Lower and Upper Mystic working groups work on priorities of importance to different parts of the watershed, such as stormwater runoff management and storm-proofing critical infrastructure.

Implementation

RMC is working to better understand the vulnerabilities of communities and infrastructure to inland and coastal flooding. To address inland flooding, the Collaborative provided a $350,000 grant for 17 municipalities to identify sites of three acres or more that could be used as wetland storage areas to slow stormwater runoff. To address coastal flooding, RMC is working on two initiatives:

  1. Working with state agencies to determine how to better manage a dam located at a saltwater tidal-freshwater riverine boundary and surrounded by dense development to prevent upstream flooding during storms. The dam is projected to fail and flood the area by 2050, and is in need of capital investments (e.g., replacing the dam with small tidal flooding barriers) to protect surrounding municipalities. RMC is part of an effort to lobby for funding for this project.
  2. Working with the Department of Homeland Security and key coastal infrastructure managers to better understand risks to infrastructure and communities posed by major coastal storm events. The Mystic River watershed contains the largest concentration of coastal infrastructure in New England (i.e. major airport, harbor tunnels, power plant, oil tanks, etc.). This project will include scenario planning exercises to understand how the climate change-related impacts on infrastructure will affect communities, including vulnerable populations, and identify possible adaptation solutions to address these impacts.

In addition to the 21 municipalities that make up RMC, other partners include the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association, Water Resources Authority, environmental justice groups, the Barr Foundation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Sasaki (a design and engineering firm). RMC conducts outreach with municipalities and local stakeholders, framing conversations around protecting communities with climate adaptation measures. In addition, RMC takes a regional approach to climate adaptation, bringing together thought leaders to create a new regional collaborative governance.

Outcomes and Conclusions

RMC is engaged in several efforts to build community resilience to climate change. The Collaborative has noticed variable public interest in resilience initiatives, depending on extreme weather events. In addition, lack of governance structures and adequate funding have proved to be challenges. The Massachusetts Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant program has alleviated some of this limitation by funding municipalities to develop preparedness plans. RMC also benefits from long-term relationships between watershed partners and municipalities. RMC would like to focus on developing next-generation climate-resilient infrastructure while working on managed retreat. In the long term, RMC hopes that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will scale the Collaborative’s adaptation work and apply it across the state.

Status

Last updated 10/21.

Citation

Sims, S.A. and Braddock, K.N. (2021). Adaptation planning and action in the Mystic River Watershed: the Resilient Mystic Collaborative of Massachusetts [Case study on projects of the Resilient Mystic Collaborative]. Version 1.0. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/adaptation-planning-and-action-mystic-river-watershed (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contact(s)

Julie Wormser 
Deputy Director – Mystic River Watershed
Coordinator – Resilient Mystic Collaborative                                      
julie.wormser@mysticriver.org    

Mystic River Watershed
https://mysticriver.org

Resilient Mystic Collaborative
https://resilient.mysticriver.org

Keywords

Scale of Project
Community / Local
Sector Addressed
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Policy
Water Resources
Other
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Air temperature
Flooding
Infrastructure damage
Precipitation
Public health risks
Public safety threats
Sea level rise
Storms or extreme weather events
Climate Type
Temperate
Timeframe
Ongoing
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy
Natural Resource Management / Conservation
Incorporate climate-smart guidelines into restoration
Reduce non-climate stressors
Capacity Building
Increase / Improve public awareness, education, and outreach efforts
Conduct / Gather additional research, data, and products
Conduct vulnerability assessments and studies
Create/enhance resources and tools
Infrastructure, Planning, and Development
Infrastructure retrofitting and improvements
Make infrastructure resistant or resilient to climate change
Community Planning (developing climate-smart communities)
Governance and Policy
Develop / implement adaptive management strategies
Habitat/Biome Type
Freshwater
Terrestrial
Effort Stage
In progress

Related Resources

Adaptation Phase
Awareness
Assessment
Planning
Implementation
Integration/Mainstream
Evaluation
Sharing Lessons
Sector Addressed
Biodiversity
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture/communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Fisheries
Land Use Planning
Policy
Research
Rural / Indigenous Livelihoods
Transportation / Infrastructure
Water Resources
Wildlife
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