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Flooding could shut down Logan airport, hospitals, and other critical infrastructure in Mass., and the risk is only growing, report says

MBTA workers set up pumps to empty out the foot-plus-deep water that shut down Wollaston Station in September 1996.Tom Landers/Globe Staff/File

In oceanside Hull, more than 80 percent of government buildings, schools, and houses of worship are at risk of such significant flooding that a major storm could render them inoperable or inaccessible. In Adams, at the far northwestern corner of the state, nearly every commercial building is vulnerable to a similar fate. And in Lawrence, in the Merrimack Valley, flooding could shut down 75 percent of the city’s police and fire stations, waste-water treatment facility, and other critical infrastructure.

The threat of flooding from major storms and rising sea levels already poses a dire threat to Massachusetts — and those risks are growing significantly all across the state, according to a new report by First Street Foundation, a New York nonprofit research group that specializes in flood risk.


Overall, in Massachusetts, an estimated 162,798 residential properties, 12,918 miles of roads, 14,644 commercial properties, and nearly 2,500 other critical buildings, such as hospitals, power stations, and government buildings, are at risk of becoming deluged and inoperable, the report estimates.

By 2051, as climate change produces stronger storms and rising tides, an additional 27,714 residential properties, 1,181 miles of roads, 2,119 commercial properties, and more than 450 critical buildings will face similar risks, the report projects.

“As we saw a few weeks ago following the devastation of Hurricane Ida, our nation’s infrastructure is not built to a standard that protects against the level of flood risk we face today, let alone how those risks will grow over the next 30 years as the climate changes,” said Matthew Eby, executive director of the First Street Foundation.

Across the country, the report estimates that risk to residential properties will increase by 10 percent over the next 30 years, with 13.6 million at risk of flooding in 2051, while the number of commercial properties threatened by flooding will increase by 7 percent over the same period.


In addition, it estimates that more than a quarter of the nation’s critical infrastructure will be at risk of flooding by mid-century, a 6 percent rise from today, with 2.2 million miles of road threatened with flooding.

The highest concentration of flooding risk exists in Louisiana, Florida, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Louisiana alone accounts for six of the top 20 most at-risk counties, given all their low-lying land and the frequency of powerful storms.

The report uses different thresholds to define risk for different buildings and infrastructure. It considers roads impassable when flooding reaches 6 inches. Police and fire stations become inaccessible or inoperable at 1 foot of flooding, while the same risks for power stations are quantified at 2 feet of flooding and 3.5 feet for hospitals.

In Massachusetts, Suffolk County faces the greatest risks — today and in the future.

More than 45 percent of the county’s critical infrastructure, including Logan International Airport, hospitals, and police and fire stations, are at risk of flooding, according to the report. Those risks are expected to increase by 20 percent by 2051.

The report estimates that more than a third of roads in Suffolk are at risk of flooding, with those risks rising by 14 percent in 30 years. It also finds that nearly a third of the county’s commercial buildings and a fifth of its residential buildings are at risk of flooding, increasing by 22 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in 2051.


Some neighborhoods of Boston are looking at potential devastation.

Water from Boston Harbor flooded Long Wharf during high tide in Boston in 2018.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

In the Seaport, for example, the report finds that all critical infrastructure and nearly all commercial buildings are at risk of becoming inoperable as a result of flooding by mid-century. It also estimates that nearly 90 percent of roads in the waterfront neighborhood are at risk of becoming inoperable in the same period.

“This report underlines the urgency of our efforts to ensure that everyone in Boston, especially the most vulnerable and those disproportionately affected by climate change, is better protected from these growing risks,” said Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s environment chief. “We are working with public and private partners to protect Boston’s people and infrastructure from sea-level rise and major coastal storms across all 47 miles of the city’s coastline.”

The city is anticipating at least 40 inches of sea-level rise by 2070, which is expected to disproportionately affect residents who are low-income, elderly, and people of color, she said.

“Without action, flood risk will increase,” White-Hammond said. “The choices we make today to build a better Boston will significantly shape how we navigate climate change now and for generations to come.”

Earlier this year, the First Street Foundation released a similar report on flooding that predicted the nation faces steep financial losses as a result of flooding in 2051, with annual losses of more than $32 billion, a 61 percent increase from the estimated costs today.

In Massachusetts, the foundation estimated that the financial losses from flooding would rise to $316 million in 30 years, a 36 percent increase from today, according to the report. The state now ranks sixth in terms of the number of residential properties — those with up to four units — likely to experience structural damage from flooding.


In Boston, where more than 3,000 properties a year will face substantial risk of damage from flooding, those losses are likely to exceed $62 million a year in 30 years, 75 percent more than today, the previous report estimated.

Amy Longsworth, director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, called the latest report “extremely sobering.”

“People think infrastructure is boring, but try living without it,” she said. “The economic losses and health impacts would be catastrophic.”

David Abel can be reached at Follow him @davabel.