Adaptation Planning and Action in the Mystic River Watershed

Sally Ann Sims Kathryn Braddock
Posted on: 10/13/2021 - Updated on: 11/15/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project 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.


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.


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.


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: (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contact

Julie Wormser 
Deputy Director – Mystic River Watershed
Coordinator – Resilient Mystic Collaborative                                      
[email protected]    

Mystic River Watershed

Resilient Mystic Collaborative

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