Category Archives: Water and Wetlands

Preparing Our Communities for Climate Change

by Mike Cusher

In 2018, the United States dealt with 14 different billion-dollar weather disasters. The four highest annual occurrences of billion-dollar weather disasters have all been within the past decade, and last year’s events had a total economic impact of $91 billion. This number includes both the direct costs of destruction as well as indirect costs like lost wages during and after the disaster, both of which pale in comparison to the increased health risks and tragic loss of life due to these storms.

Massachusetts was impacted by two of these devastating weather disasters last year during nor’easters that hit in January and in March. With these events, we are seeing the destruction of our 1,500 miles of coastline and major flooding of our inland rivers. The Commonwealth is in desperate need of increased revenue to ensure our most vulnerable communities are ready for more such impacts in the coming years. We know that being proactive in response to these weather events will cost less, and reduce damage, compared with reacting to disasters after they have occurred.

The nor’easter of March 2018 caused significant coastal flooding and hurricane-force winds in Massachusetts. Photo credit: NOAAA

A big part of the solution comes from the state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which enhances climate adaptation practices at the local level. The program provides support for communities across Massachusetts to consider their local strengths and vulnerabilities to climate change, and to prioritize actions they can take to create a safer and more resilient future. Mass Audubon is a certified MVP provider, and assists communities with this work.

But in addition to these local planning efforts, Massachusetts also needs more funding for state and local agencies to prioritize resilience. This occurs through actions like retrofitting vulnerable flood controls, transportation infrastructure, and water resources, and by implementing regional climate-smart land and coastal protection frameworks.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwaters, is one way to strengthen community resilience against climate change impacts. Photo credit: USFWS

Earlier this year, Governor Baker introduced legislation to address this need. An Act providing for climate change adaptation infrastructure investments in the Commonwealth (S.10) would create a new stream of funding to help our communities prepare for the future. The Governor’s proposal would raise $137 million annually, through a real estate tax increase, to go into the Global Warming Solutions Trust Fund.  This funding would then be reinvested into our cities and towns, both through the MVP program and as other assistance for the state and local communities to protect vulnerable assets.

This legislation is a way to leverage a small increase in the deeds excise tax, paid during real estate transfers, into a major investment in the future of our Commonwealth. S.10 is a promising next step in our ongoing process to deal with the greatest threat our world has ever faced.

Mike Cusher is Mass Audubon’s legislative director

Reducing Plastic Bag Pollution Statewide

In Massachusetts, nearly 100 communities have taken action to reduce pollution by passing single-use plastic bag bans. Now, the state legislature has a chance to pass legislation that would create a cohesive, statewide law.

We testified last week before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of An Act reducing plastic bag pollution (H.771), which would significantly reduce the use of single-use plastic bags across the state.

Over 100 billion plastic shopping bags are consumed in the US each year, and while a small portion are reused or recycled, millions end up in landfills and along roadsides, in waterways, and floating in the ocean.

Marine animals are at risk of ingesting plastic bags they mistake for food, like jellyfish. Green sea turtle photo credit: NOAA

These single-use bags pose a threat to sea turtles, whales, and other marine animals that die from eating plastic bags they mistake for food.  And because they are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, plastic bags deplete nonrenewable resources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Countries across the globe have started getting serious about plastic bags – the UK, Bangladesh, China, and dozens of others have successfully banned or introduced a tax on disposable plastic bags.

Mass Audubon will continue to support communities in their local efforts, but it’s time for Massachusetts to take action at the statewide level to provide consistency for businesses and consumers.

You can help! Please email your state representative and ask them to support H.771. Let them know that we need a comprehensive, statewide policy to reduce single-use plastic bags and the pollution they cause in our oceans and waterways. Reducing the use of these bags statewide will contribute to a shift away from disposable, petroleum-based products.

Big News for Land Protection – LWCF is Now Permanent!

Great news – the federal lands bill that includes permanent re-authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been signed into law by President Trump!

The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) not only reauthorizes LWCF, which expired in September, but also designates more than one million new acres of protected wilderness. Please take a minute to thank your US Representative for their recent vote in support of this bill – the Massachusetts delegation voted “yes” across the board.

The Cape Cod National Seashore has been preserved thanks in part to LWCF funding

The bill also designates sections of the Nashua, Squannacook, and Nissitissit Rivers as part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, which helps ensure the preservation of rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values. Mass Audubon has supported this designation for the past 3 years while the Nashua River Wild and Scenic Study Committee worked to secure it.

Now that the Natural Resources Management Act has been signed into law, we can celebrate the continued protection of our invaluable wild spaces across Massachusetts and the United States. Thanks to everyone who took the time to contact your legislators in support of this bill – you helped ensure its passage!

Land and Water Funding Close to Victory

Update 3/12/19: The bill was signed into law! Learn more.

Update 3/4/19: The bill making LWCF permanent passed in the House! Thank you everyone who called and wrote to their Representatives.

Great news – the US Senate voted last week to pass public lands legislation that would ensure the future of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The Natural Resources Management Act (S.47) not only reauthorizes LWCF, which expired in September, but also makes its reauthorization permanent. The bill also designates more than a million new acres of protected wilderness, among many other features.

Thanks to everyone who contacted Senators Markey and Warren urging them to support the bill – both voted in favor of its passage. Overall it passed with a strong majority of 92-8.

Bish Bash Falls, Mount Washington, MA. Photo credit: MA DCR

The US House of Representatives still needs to vote on this legislation before the LWCF can be reauthorized. Help keep up the momentum by contacting your US Representative and ask them to support S.47. Please also take a minute to contact Senators Markey and Warren  to thank them for their support. For 52 years, the LWCF has protected land throughout Massachusetts, from the Cape Cod National Seashore to Bash Bish Falls State Park in Mount Washington. To see those successes made permanent will secure the future of these public lands for generations to come.

Local Efforts Make the Difference for Water Conservation

by Ariel Maiorano

Remember the drought of 2016? Wells went dry, and reservoirs dropped precipitously low. The second-largest city in New England, Worcester, ran so low on water that they had to tap into additional sources (to the tune of over $1 million). Unfortunately, droughts are becoming increasingly more frequent and extreme, especially as our climate changes. Even though Massachusetts receives 15% more water annually compared to averages in the early 20th century, that precipitation now arrives in heavy bursts followed by prolonged dry spells. These dry times have enormous implications for municipal drinking water supplies. Luckily, there’s a lot we can do to protect those supplies, some of which is extremely low cost.

In a local letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Sharon Advocate , resident and town Water Conservation Estimator Paul Lauenstein shared  that the Town of Sharon reduced their annual water consumption to the lowest it’s been since 1984 thanks to public education and outreach. You can find the text of Lauenstein’s letter here.

Overall, the town of about 18,000 has reduced public well water pumping by one-third since its peak in the mid-1990s, from upwards of 600 million gallons to below 400 million gallons. Below is a figure from the town’s 2016 Water Quality Report, detailing the decrease in water usage since the 1995 spike.

Source: Water Quality Report for 2016, Town of Sharon

Lauenstein’s letter attributes Sharon’s success to adopting policies like rebates for resource-efficient appliances, and incorporating environmental education into public school curricula to shift local practices. The town Water Department also prioritized leak repairs and included reminders to reduce consumptions in water bills.  By taking low-cost and common-sense approaches to water conservation, the town successfully and significantly reduced community-wide water usage.

Water conservation offers a broad range of benefits, including improved public health, cost savings, resource availability, ecosystem value, and well-being of wildlife.  Sufficient water supplies are critical to communities throughout the Commonwealth that pump locally-sourced groundwater to meet the needs of their populations.

One of the many benefits of conservation listed by Lauenstein is the preservation of Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This rare habitat not only provides spectacular habitat for local species and recreational benefits from wildlife watching, but it also provides the service of filtering and purifying water on-site that is later pumped by local wells. By conserving water to keep this resource healthy, Sharon is letting nature work for them and allowing the ecosystems to purify water so that built infrastructure doesn’t have to.  “Green infrastructure” exists in every community and by prioritizing its protection, communities can improve their bottom line as well as enjoy co-benefits like  flood reduction and improved climate resilience.

Conserving wetlands, which naturally absorb floodwater, is one way to reap the benefits of “green infrastructure.” Photo credit: USFWS

Mass Audubon’s Shaping the  Future of Your Community Program encourages communities across the Commonwealth to identify naturally-occurring  green infrastructure in their own towns, and to take steps to conserve it. Check out our five-part guide that introduces you to what green infrastructure is, how to protect it, and how to re-incorporate it in already-developed areas. Ready to take the next step? Learn how to update your local bylaws and regulations to encourage these types of nature-based solutions.

Whether your community is conserving landscapes like Atlantic White Cedar Swamp, or is looking for more cost-effective ways to manage local water, we can follow the Town of Sharon’s common sense approach.

Ariel Maiorano is Mass Audubon’s Assistant Coordinator for the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program

Building Resilient Communities

Helping Massachusetts prepare for the impacts of climate change is among Mass Audubon’s top advocacy priorities. At the local level, our Shaping the Future of Your Community program is working with partners in the Resilient Taunton Watershed Network to help cities and towns make smart and cost-effective adaptation choices.

Thanks to an EPA Healthy Communities Grant, Mass Audubon and our partners have been working in the Taunton River watershed to provide resources to communities as they plan for climate change impacts.  This low-lying watershed was a critical pilot study for this work, as it is particularly vulnerable to flooding, is the fastest developing watershed in the Commonwealth, and nearly a third of the land is undeveloped, unprotected, and of high ecological value and critical for climate resilience.

Healthy natural systems provide many benefits to the challenges posed by climate change, from forests that sequester and store carbon dioxide to wetlands that act as natural flood absorbers. Nature-based approaches, also known as green infrastructure, to climate change adaptation can provide significant cost savings compared to to manmade engineering solutions. We focused our efforts on providing effective nature-based solutions into local land use management, development, and restoration efforts.

The Taunton River and its watershed are vulnerable to flooding. Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Marcbela

We held interactive workshops in Dighton, Halifax, Middleboro, Norton, and Taunton where we heard from local decision makers from more than 25 communities on the climate change vulnerabilities their cities and towns face. We discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation with our Mapping And Prioritizing Parcels for Resilience tool, and provided a green infrastructure map for the watershed, developed by Manomet.  The project also offered case studies on successful examples of green infrastructure projects that already exist in the region. We listened to the unique challenges of each community and tailored these resources to their needs. We are also continuing our partnership with RTWN to help communities in the Taunton watershed implement their green infrastructure projects.

The training program left local communities within the watershed equipped to make choices that will make them more resilient to future impacts of climate change.  Now we are taking what we’ve learned and bringing it to communities statewide and beyond.  We are working with the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program to train hundreds of people working in 71 communities on MVP plans; and are sharing the training materials and lessons learned with many other groups including the Citizen Planner Training Collaborative and Rhode Island Green Infrastructure Coalition.

Participants in our workshops discussed how to identify high priority lands for conservation and incorporate green infrastructure into adaptation planning.

The Healthy Communities Project was a partnership among the Southeast Region Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Manomet, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

You can learn more about the project, and view the presentations and case studies, here.

Mass Audubon Receives Grant to Help Communities Restore Water Quality

Our Shaping the Future of Your Community program has received a grant from the Foundation for MetroWest to help communities protect and restore natural water balance and water quality through resilient landscapes. This work will focus on the MetroWest region of Massachusetts, which is experiencing climate change through more intense storm events punctuated by increased frequency of droughts – impacts that are only expected to worsen in the future. Events like these contribute to increased floods, erosion, and water pollution as well as periods of low or no flow in streams, which can stress fish and other aquatic life.

The impacts are amplified when we cover forests and fields that soak up and filter water with impervious surfaces, like sprawling developments and wide roads, that create water runoff that carries pollution into our waterways.

The Assabet River in Hudson, MA. Photo credit: John Phelan

We will introduce public and municipal officials to a more natural approach to land management through Low Impact Development (LID) and native plants. The project will demonstrate how local decisions can restore the water cycle and water quality while providing an attractive, high-quality landscape and improving climate resilience for current and future generations. The goal is to increase awareness and adoption of these cost-effective and practical techniques.

Our water resources are increasingly stressed, but conserving and restoring the natural landscape with native plants can offer social, environmental, and economic benefits.

 

Established in 1995, the Foundation for MetroWest is the only community foundation serving the 33 cities and towns in the region. The Foundation promotes philanthropy in the region, helps donors maximize the impact of their local giving, serve as a resource for local nonprofits and enhance the quality of life for all our residents. Since inception, the Foundation has granted $11.6 million to charitable organizations and currently stewards more than $15 million in charitable assets for current needs and future impact. 

Action You Can Take This Week – Water Protections Under Threat

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been ordered by the President to repeal a rule that defines wetlands and waterways protected nationwide under the Clean Water Act.

The “Waters of the United States” rule, issued in 2015, was developed following extensive scientific and public input.  Under the guise of returning power to the states, this repeal would eliminate protection for up to 60% of streams and wetlands, including areas that contribute to water supplies for 117 million people.

Photo credit: Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration

The EPA has opened a 30-day public comment period on the proposed repeal. Mass Audubon is submitting comments, and you can too. Ask EPA to keep protections in place for these streams and wetlands that are vital to both people and wildlife.

Water does not follow state boundaries. It is one of our most fundamental natural resources and must be protected, from headwater streams and vernal pools to main stem rivers and the ocean.

A Cleaner Housatonic River

Mass Audubon has submitted two court documents in support of the responsible cleanup of the Housatonic River.

For several decades through the 1970s, General Electric (GE) manufactured and serviced electrical transformers containing toxic and persistent PCB chemicals. During those years, GE polluted the Housatonic River and surrounding lands over several decades with hundreds of tons of PCBs, which pose threats to human health and wildlife. Efforts to mitigate this environmental disaster have been ongoing since the 1980s, and the “Rest of River” (an administrative term designating the river below Pittsfield) cleanup under this permit will take an estimated 13 years.  Even after the cleanup is completed, PCBs will remain present throughout extensive lands along and near the river. The chemicals will persist for many decades, likely even hundreds of years.

Mass Audubon’s Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary

The Housatonic River Valley features tremendous ecological, scenic, tourism, and community values and it is vital that these be protected and restored. As a directly impacted landowner—our Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary is located on the river in Pittsfield—Mass Audubon has been closely engaged in the planning process for the cleanup for many years. Canoe Meadows is located at the head of the “Rest of River,” where the methods for the cleanup will first be applied, and this sanctuary contains habitat that supports numerous rare and common species of plants and animals.

Mass Audubon submitted two Amicus Briefs – one of our own, and one in partnership with the Housatonic Rest of River Municipal Committee – supporting a strong Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permit governing the implementation of this crucial environmental cleanup project. This includes a requirement for off-site disposal of PCBs at a licensed, hazardous waste facility, and the dredging of Woods Pond in Lenox, where PCBs have settled for generations behind a dam on the river. We also support the permit requirements for compliance with the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, as cleanup activities will impact habitats of several state-listed rare plants and animals.

Housatonic River. Photo credit: mass.gov

We’ve urged that the final EPA permit make it clear that GE will be responsible in perpetuity for managing the persistent environmental contamination that will remain even after the cleanup, and that affected communities and landowners have input into the cleanup plan.

Read our full position statement on the Housatonic PCB cleanup.