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Buildings are at risk, but groundwater fixes should proceed with care

A field engineer with the Boston Groundwater Trust used a water level meter to take a measurement of the groundwater level at a test well in the Fenway. The drought is leading to lower groundwater levels in the city, threatening buildings that have wood pilings.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Re “Drought threatens building foundations” (Page A1, Sept. 4): Sabrina Shankman and Daniel Kool described risks to thousands of buildings perched on wood pilings that are projected to rot because of low groundwater levels. It is gratifying that the Boston Groundwater Trust, city and state officials, and others are increasingly considering arrays of groundwater recharging systems. However, certain solutions, such as swales, detention basins, and retention basins that impound water, may themselves create safety and public health problems.

If not secured by proper fencing, these temporary ponds become attractive nuisances and drowning hazards. Their sloped banks often become heavily vegetated and serve as nesting sites for rats and other pests. Water that remains for just a few days can provide ideal habitat for mosquitoes.


If planned, constructed, and maintained well, however, such basins can help recharge groundwater while not unnecessarily contributing to these other problems.

Richard Pollack


The writer is a senior environmental public health officer in the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at Harvard University and a commissioner with the Norfolk County Mosquito Control District. The views expressed here are his own.