Making Boston’s Waterfront Climate Ready; Harbor Barrier Study

Nine Boston Neighborhoods Increasingly Subject to Flooding by Rising Tides (City of Boston)

As revelers made their 2017 New Year’s polar plunge in Boston’s waters, a new report issued just before the holidays made yet another sobering assessment of the city’s vulnerability to rising sea levels. The comprehensive report (pdf) issued by the Climate Ready Boston initiative details how the rising tides will soon start to engulf city neighborhoods in the coming decades.

A sea level rise in Boston of 1.3 – 3.1 feet by 2070 is the mid-range projection of the report.  As soon as 2030, an 8 inch rise is expected under various emission scenarios. Climate change will not just impact the shoreline. Rainfall amounts from storms will spike and heat-related events with over 80 days per year of 90 degree-plus days in Boston.

The Downtown Waterfront (including North End) is identified as one of nine focus neighborhoods, as are the Seaport and Back Bay. Boston’s waterfront neighborhoods are largely at risk from significantly higher tides with portions of the shoreline increasingly subject to flooding. A 5% decrease in dry land is projected by simply being underwater.

Many natural hazards that Boston already faces – including coastal and riverine flooding, stormwater flooding, and extreme heat – will be exacerbated by climate change. As soon as the 2070s, almost 90,000 residents and buildings worth over $80 billion will face a one-percent chance of coastal and riverine flooding in any given year, stormwater flooding will pose a significant hazard to a tenth of the city, and the temperature may reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit almost every day of the summer. [Climate Ready Boston – December 2016 report]

The Barr Foundation announced last week a $360,000 grant to investigate possible barrier configurations and harbor defenses against storm surges by the Sustainable Solutions Lab at the University of Massachusetts Boston. A barrier could stretch from Deer Island to Hull, in what would be a long-term and very expensive project rivaling that of the Big Dig.

As part of its latest report, Climate Ready Boston put out a roadmap for implementation strategies. An underlying question is how to pay for the new initiatives. Within the next two years, the report recommends establishing an Infrastructure Coordination Committee that will develop a model for green infrastructure on public land and right-of-way as well as revised zoning codes to support climate-ready buildings.

Increasing Boston’s climate readiness is the goal of the initiative coordinated with the Imagine Boston 2030 city planning effort. However, a Globe opinion piece by Harvard’s Stephen Gray believes the two efforts may actually conflict with each other as the city’s growth and building aspirations will overtake defensive climate change preparedness efforts.

3 Replies to “Making Boston’s Waterfront Climate Ready; Harbor Barrier Study

  1. Although their hearts are in the right place, I hope they realize that the worlds water levels will keep rising until all the ice on earth has melted and “barrier” plans are only a temporary solution to the long term issue of global coastal inundation.

    1. Curious if you are old enough to remember the “global cooling” craze of the 1960s. Or if you’ve ever been to Holland.

  2. “Room for the River” project is underway for the very complicated waterways in Netherlands (Holland) and some lands are intentionally flooded — people move to higher ground. Dikes, barriers, and even patrolling these areas during storms help, but sea level is rising, as Wally said, and the demand is even greater to protect this small area of land, which is the most densely populated. Soon many areas in the US will be obliged to seriously study the infrastructures of coastal vulnerability.

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