Forget sea level rise — Boston isn’t even protected against heavy rains

Boston’s Widett Circle area.
Boston’s Widett Circle area.(David L. Ryan/File 2014/The Boston Globe)

Since the Deb Pasternak op-ed (“Baker, Walsh, and DeLeo must move on climate change,” Dec. 10), I’ve been reading with some interest Christopher Cook’s letter suggesting that Boston is moving aggressively to combat sea level rise and storm surge (“Under Walsh, Boston making strides on climate impacts,” Dec. 13), and Joseph Favaloro’s suggesting that whatever the requirements, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has done its job, and new investment anticipating climate change is beyond its mandate (“MWRA has fulfilled its mission — time for other stakeholders to step up,” Dec. 14).

Boston has made some headway planning for the flooding associated with king tides and N’oreasters. However, since 1958, the power and frequency of the largest 1 percent of rainstorms has increased by 71 percent, nearly double any other region in the nation. Long before we have to worry about severe flooding associated with sea level rise and storm surge, we will face catastrophic floods from precipitation.


In such storms, the MWRA system will fail, and riverside institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Boston University, and Northeastern will go down, as will Back Bay, the toe of Beacon Hill, the South End, and a whole bunch of disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The Charles River Watershed Association’s plan to restore Widett Circle as a wetland together with a restored Bass River there draining a large segment of Boston would be a real start. Abandoning, over time, the Deer Island system in favor of distributed sewage treatment, which would generate electric and thermal energy and reclaimed water by district would help build deep resilience.

Bob Zimmerman


The writer is former executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association.