Guest Op-Ed: This Week’s King Tide Highlights the Work Everett Needs to Do on Climate Preparedness

By Mayor Carlo DeMaria 

Everett residents and business owners are increasingly experiencing flooding from both heavier rainstorms and coastal storms. Many residents have experienced increased flooding in certain neighborhoods and small businesses along the Island End River report that they have come to expect to be flooded with saltwater at least once a year during big storms.

Even as Everett is undergoing an enormous economic resurgence, we have to learn to manage chronic flooding related to climate change.  This past Tuesday, just after noon, we got a preview of the new reality of higher high tides.  We experienced a “King Tide,” the astronomical high tide that occurs when the sun and the moon are aligned and the moon is closest to the earth in its orbit.  Approximately two feet above normal high tides, King Tides give us a sneak peek of what our twice-daily high tide will look like with two feet of sea level rise, expected sometime after mid-century.  Add a few feet more from a good Nor’easter, and the city will flood regularly without intervention.

As we are all increasingly aware, we are a community surrounded by water. The Mystic River, the Malden River, Island End River, North and South Creek and Town Line Brook are all in and around Everett.  After decades of public investment and volunteer efforts, these rivers are now tremendous amenities, attracting new residents and businesses, including Encore Boston Harbor.

Flooding can occur when runoff from major rain events overwhelms our storm drainage system, or when we see abnormally high tides that result in coastal flooding. When these occur at the same time our rivers can swell with floodwaters and jump their banks or back up our stormwater drains.  This can cause people’s basements to fill with sewage and other toxic pollution.  Major flooding can ruin homes, businesses and infrastructure, and can pollute the river and harbor we’ve spent billions to clean up.

Because Everett is so densely populated, most of our surface area is either built out or paved. During major storms water cannot infiltrate into the ground and flows quickly over the surface and into our storm drains. As our climate warms we are experiencing dramatic rainfall events which can overwhelm our storm drainage system. That is why we have continued to increase our city investment in repairing and maintaining that system. We have removed tons of debris from our catch basins, increased our street sweeping to remove sediment before it enters the storm drain system and inspected our drains lines to ensure they are not blocked with debris.

In addition, we have updated storm water regulations, reduced parking requirements, passed a driveway ordinance, and built new “rain gardens” and “bio-swales”; all in an effort to reduce impervious surface cover and allow water drain into the ground rather than overwhelming our stormwater system. We are also working with our neighbors to ensure water that enters the storm drain system in Everett flows smoothly to our rivers, streams and ocean, even as it flows through other communities.    

Last year, we experienced two “hundred-year” storms in two months, each of which equaled the Blizzard of ‘78.  The storm surge from the ocean broke through the parking lot of the New England Produce Center, and came within 18 inches of over-topping and damaging the Amelia Earhart Dam.  Many of our longtime businesses and transportation infrastructure, including a major MBTA commuter rail line, are located along our waterfront in areas increasingly vulnerable to coastal storms and sea level rise. 

These are some of the reasons why we are working hard to identify and decrease our risks of damage when these storms do occur.  We are committed to sustainably moving our economy forward while building climate resiliency into major new projects and retrofits.  

For example:  We are repairing tide gates and installing new ones on our stormwater drains to reduce inland flooding during abnormally high tides. We are partnering with the City of Chelsea on a flood control project that will create a living shoreline, add a walking path, and dramatically reduce the risk to vulnerable populations, infrastructure, and businesses at the northern end of the Island End River.  Everett is also a founding member of the Resilient Mystic Collaborative, a highly-effective, voluntary partnership among 16 municipalities and the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Finally, we are working with public and private partners to daylight as much of the Island End River as possible. A century ago, our ancestors buried the Island End River to form the area between Beacham Street and Route 16.  With heavier storms, this underground culvert is failing, causing dangerous sinkholes in the parking lot.  By actively restoring or “daylighting” the river, we will reduce polluted runoff, address flash flooding concerns, and improve the livability of this area of the city that has long been forgotten.

As your mayor, my goal is for our community to sustainably provide the amenities and services that residents expect, while working to protect our city from the dramatic effects of climate change.  I’m very proud of the fact that Everett is becoming a leader in addressing our climate challenges.  I thank you for your support and feedback as we pursue this critical work.

Carlo DeMaria is the Mayor of Everett.

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