This summer, Mass Audubon’s Shaping the Future of Your Community program collaborated with partners and communities to advance nature-based floodwater management and increase climate resilience in southeastern Massachusetts.
Through this project, the communities of Freetown, Lakeville, Middleborough, New Bedford, Rochester, and Taunton took action around an area of interconnected lands and ponds known as the Assawompset Ponds Complex.
About Assawompset Ponds Complex
The Assawompset Ponds Complex serves as an important regional resource for public water supply, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Assawompset Pond is the largest natural freshwater lake in Massachusetts and serves as the headwaters of the Nemasket River, which contains the largest herring run in the state.
Flooding around the Complex and the Nemasket River has been an ongoing issue in recent years, and is only expected to worsen as precipitation trends shift due to climate change. Past flooding has caused evacuations, property damage, and interruption of critical utility and road infrastructure. While several studies of the area and its flooding trends had been performed over the years, it was time to take those findings and turn them into priority actions, with an emphasis on holistic watershed-scale planning efforts that prioritize nature-based solutions.
Nature, of course, has intrinsic value, but it also provides measurable benefits to people, like air and water filtration and carbon absorption. These services can in turn benefit local economies and help us adapt to climate change. Nature-based solutions to problems like flooding and storm damage are often cheaper, simpler, and more effective than built solutions.
Our team, which included both technical experts and local stakeholders, studied and prioritized the most promising methods – both nature-based, like wetland restoration, and built, like culvert replacements – for reducing local flooding issues. Hearing about local experiences, not only with flooding but with the resulting impacts to water quality, habitat, and recreation, was a vital step in the planning process.
The project team then selected the top six priority projects and mapped out an action plan for the watershed. Those projects include:
- Wetland restoration for improved floodwater storage
- Developing a long-term hydrologic model to support water supply and fish passage
- Replacing undersized culverts to improve streamflow
- Plus more – learn about all the priority projects in the team’s final report
Now that priority actions have been identified, the project team is turning planning into action, holding site visits and securing grant funding to start implementing solutions. We joined state leaders, including Governor Baker, at an event highlighting the project’s successful partnership at the regional, state, and local levels.
With funding secured from a SNEP Network Technical Assistance Grant and the Taunton River Stewardship Council, the project team is moving forward with further assessment of current conditions in the upper Nemasket River, and exploring potential management actions and their associated outcomes with the Ponds communities. These studies will inform the next steps local managers take to begin implementing solutions.
As Massachusetts communities continue to experience and plan for the impacts of climate change, proactive management of the Assawompset Ponds Complex can serve as an example in valuing local stakeholder engagement, a regional approach to planning, and nature’s role in our resilience.
Partners on this project included Mass Audubon, the Southeastern Regional Planning and Economic Development District, Manomet, and the Horsley Witten Group, Inc., with support of The Nature Conservancy and other Resilient Taunton Watershed Network partners. It was made possible through funding secured in the FY2020 state budget and managed by the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration.