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A new wetland, a new future for Alewife Brook

Alewife Brook
Alewife Brook
Many people associate Cambridge with the Charles River, which provides a gleaming, picturesque border with neighbor Boston. But about one-third of the city – in West and North Cambridge – is in the Mystic River Watershed, meaning water there drains into the Mystic, primarily via Alewife Brook.

This is also where important and innovative work is under way to correct a problem that dates to the late 1800s: ridding the landscape of combined sewer overflow (CSO) outfalls that impair water quality in the Alewife Subwatershed.

City Engineer Owen O’Riordan and Engineering Project Coordinator Catherine Woodbury of the Cambridge Department of Public Works gave a presentation on the city’s sewer separation project at the Mystic River Watershed Association’s Joint Committee Meeting on January 7.

Ideally, stormwater and sanitary sewer systems should function independently. But many older cities have combined systems that collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in the same pipe. Most of the time, these systems transport all of their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged to a water body.

During big storms, however, the volume in a combined sewer system can exceed capacity. In such instances, combined sewer systems are designed to overflow, which discharges excess wastewater directly to nearby water bodies. These discharges help prevent sewage backups into homes, businesses and streets, but they impair water quality, often to dangerous levels.

In Cambridge, the city and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority are collaborating on six projects to significantly reduce CSO discharges into Alewife Brook, including eliminating three of the eight original CSO outfall locations.

In addition, the amount of stormwater that enters the combined system is being reduced, which lessens the likelihood of combined outfalls. This is being accomplished in part by installing new storm drains in three neighborhoods, and by separating manholes that were common to the storm drain and sewer systems (effectively functioning as CSOs).

Several “green infrastructure” projects are part of the project, most notably the creation of a 3.5-acre wetland basin near the Alewife MBTA Station.  The wetland, completed last October, collects the stormwater flows removed from the combined sewer system, and provides a level of natural water quality treatment before the water drains into the Little River and Alewife Brook. It also will reduce flooding, a long-time problem in the area, and improve the health of adjacent natural wetlands.

The marshy basin features 115,000 new wetland plants, 3,800 upland plants, paths and boardwalks, benches and bike racks, interpretive signs, overlooks, and a seating area designed for school group visits. Other techniques the city is implementing to reduce stormwater runoff include planting more than 400 street trees, building rain gardens, and replacing impervious pavement with porous pavement.

When the project is completed next year, officials expect the annual amount of untreated sewage released to Alewife Brook will be 85% below 1996 levels – dropping from 50 million gallons to 7.3 million gallons – with average annual CSO discharges falling from 63 to seven.  

These initiatives will significantly improve the Alewife Subwatershed water quality, help restore the health of the Mystic River, and make the Alewife and Mystic River reservations safer and more inviting for recreation.

More information about the Cambridge sewer separation project is available on the city’s stormwater management web page.

The next Mystic River Watershed Association Joint Committee Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 4, in the Rabb Room of the Lincoln Filene Center at Tufts University.  At that meeting, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority will give a presentation about its climate adaptation plans.

The public is welcome at all Joint Committee Meetings.

For more information on the Mystic River Watershed Association, visit www.mysticriver.org.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Menotomy Observer January 27, 2014 at 09:40 PM
Rich, your buddies at the Mystic River Watershed Association got $150,000 worth of free rent in the Senior Center behind town hall over a 10 year period. Do you approve of that theft of town services?
John B January 28, 2014 at 05:39 PM
Bill is actually Stephen Harrington. Hi Steve!
Hokey Wolf January 28, 2014 at 06:07 PM
The Blogger is John B
Menotomy Observer January 28, 2014 at 07:28 PM
John, yeah everyone is Steve.
rt January 28, 2014 at 07:59 PM
Did you know a cow releases 500 liters of methane gas every day. Therefore, Stephen/Bill/Donald Mei/Saul Glick is actually a cow.
swimmom January 28, 2014 at 08:03 PM
much like how you post something and then delete it before the other person has a chance to respond to your coward comment? Want to tell me to mind mown business? Go suck an egg Griselda
Menotomy Observer January 28, 2014 at 08:09 PM
Fascinating. I comment on a story which brings the trolls out. Instead of commenting on the story or even my comment the trolls fixate in some other guy. I don't remember interacting with either John B or Griselda before. Tell me why you believe me to be Steve.
Hokey Wolf January 28, 2014 at 08:46 PM
Hokey J Wolf is not Steve.. .. Hokey dislikes dishonest town officals . Which means almost every single one in Arlington .. NFG
rt January 28, 2014 at 09:01 PM
Whatcha gonna do helicoptermom, attack me with a plastic sword or threaten me in crayon.
Menotomy Observer January 28, 2014 at 09:08 PM
Rich, then you do condone officials stealing town services. In this case $150,000 worth of free rent. Figures.
swimmom January 28, 2014 at 09:13 PM
Bite me Griselda. You think I'm a helicopter mom because I protect my kid. Go back to playing with your cat you lonely excuse for a person
Stephen January 28, 2014 at 09:43 PM
I just got home and logged into patch to see my name bandied about. Since 5pm I've been at various venues with my kids. In fact, when Bill posted I was with half a dozen parents waiting for our kids to finish whatever that activity was. So much for the paranoid ramblings of John B. As for the sunstance of what Bill said, here is a link to a Letter to the Editor in the Arlington Advocate that I wrote in the summer of 2012. http://arlington.wickedlocal.com/article/20120920/NEWS/309209903/ About 5000 people saw it, but not the ideologically blind. The Town Manager wrote to me trying to claim what Rich is also claiming above, that this private non-profit was given the space, rent free, for a decade; without a Town Meeting appropriation, without any disclosure, without any public input. That is theft of town services. Now this occurred long before Chapdelaine came onto the scene and there is no doubt in my mind that it was certain elected officials who gave this freebie, the same former and current officials who so cavalierly use Arlington's public resources to enrich their friends and punish their enemies. Now we don't need to know who Rick H and John B are, except that they support patronage, petty graft and theft of town services for the select few and the rest of us had better keep our mouths shut or they will smear you even when you are not involved in their incessant nonsense.
Menotomy Observer January 28, 2014 at 09:50 PM
Steve, I did read your letter in the Advocate. That was how I knew about this particular example of corruption. Funny how Rich thinks that town officials can just give away resources to anyone they like without any restrictions. Reminds me how Ed Markey almost got free use of Town Hall to hold a campaign rally. The politically connected have been robbing this town blind for years. Time to put an end to their gluttony.
Hokey Wolf January 28, 2014 at 10:27 PM
Arlington is loaded with corruption. Funny fact is that these Bandits have the wool pulled over the moon bats eyes. If someone speaks up they are branded as trouble makers . Many have tried and have been very unsuccessful at trying to silence Hokey J Wolf. There are lots of snakes, rats, leeches, skunks and twerps in Arlington . тот карлик воля получать его когда-нибудь . карма является a сука
rt January 28, 2014 at 10:31 PM
How are your imaginary lawsuits going, aquamom? By now I thought you would be rich after bringing St Agnes to its knees. I guess you were just full of crap after all. I wonder if you spew as much gas as Bill 'the bovine' Harrington?
swimmom January 29, 2014 at 10:17 AM
Why don't you get your facts straight. Maybe if St. Agnes was willing to admit they screwed up, the lawsuits would be settled. I'd rather drag them to court than take but a penny from them. Go get back on your broom
Hokey Wolf January 29, 2014 at 03:20 PM
Swimmom , Griselda is a former St. Agnes school board member current parent of a student there . But what's the most disturbing aspect of all this is that this guy is paid to protect and serve the people of Arlington . Scary isn't it .
John B January 31, 2014 at 05:29 PM
Didn't delete posts from this thread, but someone did. I guess HokeySteveBill has inside influence on Patch. But the question is still unanswered - if "theft" occurred, why isn't the district attorney involved?

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