fb-pixel Skip to main content

Boston will see more damage as storms get more severe. Here’s how experts think we should prepare

A woman watched as waves crashed into Fan Pier along the Seaport district in Boston in early March.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff File

Engineers and climate change researchers called Monday for a regional approach to help Boston implement better flood control and storm management measures, saying recent storms that left neighborhoods underwater are a sign of worsening conditions as sea levels continue to rise.

Environmental specialists said the city should work with state and local partners as well as the private sector to seek funding and immediately begin neighborhood improvement measures — what one researcher called “low-hanging fruit” — such as creating wetlands and building flood barriers that will help local communities take steps to protect from storms.

“You can’t get away from this; there is a real resource cost,” said David Levy, a management professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness, who is looking at the costs of implementing climate change response and storm protection measures in Greater Boston.


He said that as storms begin to intensify as expected because of climate change, “we’ll see more damage, as we saw in Boston.”

Levy was one of several researchers who testified during a City Council hearing on the city’s storm preparedness and flooding problems, following a series of storms that began in January and temporarily left parts of neighborhoods in South Boston and East Boston underwater. Flooding concerns will continue to grow as experts predict sea levels along Greater Boston’s coasts could rise another three feet or more over the next several decades. Logan International Airport could be underwater by the turn of the century, they said.

Officials from the city’s planning departments said the city has already implemented some programs and policies to address climate change. New buildings in flood areas must be built with resiliency designs. The city is looking at creating an overlay district that would spell out zoning regulations in certain flood areas.


The University of Massachusetts Boston is already examining the possibility of a harbor barrier in Boston Harbor, a $20 billion mechanical flood gate. The study’s findings are expected as early as May, though there is no guarantee the city would move forward with the project.

Alison Brizius, Boston’s director of climate and environmental planning, said the city recognized the need for neighborhood projects to control flooding, pointing out efforts to raise a portion of Main Street in Charlestown, and to create a flood barrier for the East Boston Greenway. Officials are seeking to make similar efforts in South Boston.

But environmentalists and engineers still said that a regional approach will be needed to look at funding and planning strategies for what will inevitably become a regional problem.

“I think we have to ask the question . . . Who’s going to coordinate? Who has the engineering expertise to oversee it?” said Bud Ris, a former New England Aquarium CEO who served on a Boston Green Ribbon Commission of civic and business leaders to study the city’s response to climate change.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.