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Charles River Watershed Association advocates for removal of Watertown Dam

The Charles River Watershed Association gave a presentation this month on the case for removing the Watertown Dam.

On Jan. 21, the association gave a Zoom presentation advocating for the dam’s removal. Watertown residents and river enthusiasts alike logged on to hear about the potential threats the dam poses to the community. The event was facilitated by Greg Reibman, president of the Charles River Regional Chamber, with presenters Robert Kearns and Julie Dyer Wood of the Charles River Watershed Association.

The hour-long online presentation consisted of a slideshow that explained the dangers a dam breach would cause and the course of action that would need to be taken to remove the Watertown Dam. Wood and Kearns also discussed the benefits of dam removal. At the end of the presentation, meeting attendees were able to ask questions through the chat feature on Zoom.

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The Watertown Dam is owned and operated by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Office of Dam Safety. The DCR has classified the Watertown Dam to be in “fair” condition, but also identifies it as a significant hazard potential structure, meaning if it were to fail, the damage would be significant. The DCR created an emergency action plan that assessed the risks posed by the dam and estimated the degree of damage that would occur if the dam were to break.

In the presentation, Wood explained that the Watertown Dam is not meant to protect the surrounding area from flooding, and that climate change has rendered the dam ineffective.

“The dams that were built were once really useful, they powered our mills and our industry and they served as sort of the basis for our economy for some years,” said Wood. “However, as these dams remain, we know that they were designed for a different climate than the one we are experiencing and a different climate than the one we will experience.”

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The Charles River Watershed Association, in collaboration with the Charles River Climate Compact, developed the Charles River Flood Model to show where and when flooding can occur with future rainfall scenarios and what may help to prevent flooding. Wood explained that mapping out strategies for preventing flooding is a good way to know if they will be effective before making a large investment.

The Watertown Dam Removal Feasibility Study examines the potential cost and benefits of removing the Watertown Dam. The study, finalized in June 2021, found that removal of the Watertown Dam is feasible. The feasibility study is seen as the first step in the dam removal process to determine if eliminating a dam is possible in an area and if there are any technical barriers. Wood explained that the next steps to removing the dam would involve community conversations.

If you were unable to attend the webinar, you can watch it on the Charles River Regional Chamber YouTube channel. To get involved in the effort to remove the Watertown Dam, join the Charles River Watershed Association newsletter on their website at crwa.org.


Rose Pecci can be reached at rose.pecci@globe.com.