After a successful, energetic first six months, the 10 founding communities in the Resilient Mystic Collaborative (RMC) are reaching out to ask all remaining watershed neighbors to join this voluntary regional effort.
In September 2018, municipal planners and engineers from Arlington, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Medford, Somerville, Winchester and Woburn launched a municipal partnership focused on increasing climate resiliency at a watershed scale. The RMC includes non-profit and private sector partners as content experts, with municipalities serving as the group’s voting parties.
Facilitated by the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and the Consensus Building Institute (CBI), the RMC is focused on three key goals: collectively manage stormwater quantity and quality, decrease risks to critical infrastructure in the Lower Mystic, and increase the resilience of vulnerable residents during and after extreme weather events. Having now established these goals and other foundational governance mechanisms for the collaborative, the group is eager to expand to include the remaining 11 Mystic River Watershed communities.
The Mystic River Watershed includes three of the US cities most engaged in climate preparedness — Boston, Cambridge and Somerville — as well as nine communities with significant environmental justice challenges.
“Woburn is pleased to be a part of this collaborative, proactive effort to foster regional climate resiliency and mitigate the consequences of flooding, natural disasters and erratic temperatures,” said Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin.
“We look forward to the Collaborative aiding communities in seeking state and federal funding for resiliency projects throughout the Mystic River Watershed,” said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. “The RMC is a great resource for inter-municipal, regional and Public-Private Partnerships to address flooding, heat-island effect, and sea level rise.”
“As a densely-settled, environmental justice community that disproportionately hosts critical infrastructure along its coast, Chelsea is confronted and endangered by the realities of climate change,” said Alex Train, Assistant Director of Chelsea’s Planning and Development Department. “Our socioeconomic realities magnify the staggering consequences that flooding, heat, and other natural disasters will reveal, exceeding any community’s ability to prepare for by itself.”
“Cambridge cannot make itself an island of resiliency,” said Kathy Watkins, Assistant Commissioner of Engineering. “Fortunately, the cities in our region are working individually and together and we are already starting to see the fruits of our efforts in greater public awareness, substantive projects, and state policies.”
“The City of Somerville released its first climate action plan, Somerville Climate Forward, in November 2018,” said Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Director of Somerville’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. “Our community decided that the number one thing we need to do with respect to coastal flooding is the creation of a Mystic River regional coalition. We are delighted that MyRWA and our neighbors have come together so quickly to take action.”
MyRWA staff interviewed more than fifty municipal and non-municipal opinion leaders in the six months leading up to the RMC’s launch.
“We heard a lot of common concerns and innovative thinking,” said Julie Wormser, MyRWA’s deputy director. “Municipalities wanted support to implement on-the-ground projects that made a difference at a regional scale.”
CBI’s Carri Hulet added, “Working together to become resilient to climate change at the watershed scale makes so much sense, but there are a lot of forces that work against cross-municipal collaboration. RMC communities are showing real vision and flexibility.”
A generous grant from the Barr Foundation allowed MyRWA to hire Wormser in July 2018 to staff the RMC and partner with CBI.
“RMC’s model of bringing municipalities together to act as partners is a transformative way of approaching climate resilience,” said Kalila Barnett, Climate Resilience Program Officer for the Barr Foundation. “The challenge of preparing for climate impacts requires collaboration to address areas of shared vulnerability. I believe that the entire Greater Boston region will benefit from their accomplishments.”
Each of the founding municipalities had already participated in community-level climate preparedness planning and recognized the need to work together on challenges that cross political boundaries.
“RMC encourages collaboration through a regional framework, addressing vulnerability issues impacting all Mystic communities by connecting towns, cities, non-profits, and technical experts,” said Emily Sullivan, Arlington’s Environmental Planner. “Although [the RMC is] a new initiative, Arlington already feels more connected to its neighbors by participating in this energized group.”
“Water and heat do not understand or respect municipal boundaries, so it is important that we all work together to understand, prepare for and mitigate the effects that climate change will have in our regions,” added Medford’s Director of Energy and Environment, Alicia Hunt. “We need to work with our colleagues on the other side of our borders to determine the solutions that will be best for everyone.”
“We are often managing stormwater and dealing with issues such as climate change within municipal boundaries,” explained John Livsey, Lexington Town Engineer. “The Collaborative allows us to take a more appropriate watershed approach and share knowledge with colleagues that we otherwise may not have the opportunity to meet.”
“As extreme weather becomes more frequent and severe, hospitals need to remain open and able to care for patients,” said David Burson, senior project manager for Partners HealthCare. “Partners is committed to making our facilities resilient, so communities can count on us during emergencies. The Collaborative enables us to work on climate preparedness initiatives with the communities we serve in the Mystic Watershed."
A major factor in the RMC’s rapid cohesion is that many participants know each other from working together in the Metro Mayors Coalition Climate Preparedness Task Force, facilitated by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).
“While many of the municipalities have been working on resilience for some time, this Collaborative is unique in that it brings together municipalities, non-profits and the private sector within the Mystic watershed to work together,” said Sasha Shyduroff, clean energy and climate planner for MAPC. “MAPC is excited to be involved and help support this new effort.”
For more information: https://mysticriver.org/resilient-mystic-collaborative
Mystic River Watershed at a Glance
The 76-square-mile Mystic River Watershed stretches from Woburn through the northern shoreline of Boston Harbor to Revere. An Anglicized version of the Pequot word missi-tuk (“large river with wind- and tide-driven waves”), it is now one New England’s most densely populated, urbanized watersheds. The seven-mile Mystic River and its tributaries represented an early economic engine for colonial Boston. 10 shipyards built more than 500 clipper ships in the 1800s before roads and railways replaced schooners and steamships. Tide-driven mills, brickyards and tanneries along both banks of the river brought both wealth and pollution.
In the 1960s, the Amelia Earhart Dam transformed much of the river into a freshwater impoundment, while construction of Interstate 93 filled in wetlands and dramatically changed the river’s course. Since then, many former industrial sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped into new commercial areas and residential communities.
The Mystic is facing growing climate-related challenges: coastal and stormwater flooding, extreme storms, heat, drought and unpredictable seasonal weather. The watershed is relatively low-lying and extensively developed, making it prone to both freshwater and coastal flooding. Its 21 municipalities are home to a half-million residents, including many who are disproportionately vulnerable to extreme weather: environmental justice communities, new Americans, residents of color, elders, low-income residents and employees, people living with disabilities and English-language learners.