Massachusetts wetlands are ‘shelter from the storm’

Taunton, MA – Enough wetlands remain in the flood-prone areas of Bristol County to hold enough rain to cover Taunton, MA in more than two feet of water, according to a new report by Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center.

The analysis, Shelter from the Storm: How Wetlands Protect Our Communities from Flooding, says that the state’s wetlands, the region’s natural shield against flood damage, are at risk from pollution and development.

“Our wetlands are nature’s first line of defense against storms and flood damage,” said Sam Shepard, a Clean Water Act campaign organizer with Environment Massachusetts. “We need to protect what’s left of them.”

Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing an average of $8.2 billion in damage each year for the past 30 years. In Massachusetts, severe 2005 flooding in Taunton cost $2.7 million and forced the evacuation of 2,000 residents.  As global warming continues, scientists predict that the damage caused by floods will only increase; warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, leading to higher levels of precipitation during rain and snowstorms.

“The loss of large areas of wetlands over the past one hundred years have dramatically amplified flooding and water quality problems, particularly in our watershed,” says EkOngKar Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association.  “Wetlands are essential to the health of all rivers, lakes and streams and provide important eco-system benefits. They are especially valuable in densely developed urban river watersheds where there is a premium on every square foot of permeable land.”

A loophole in the nation’s Clean Water Act leaves the state’s smaller streams and wetlands without guaranteed protection under the law. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed restoring the safeguards with a rule expected to be finalized as early as next month.

The restored clean water and wetland protections have won support from hundreds of thousands of Americans, farmers, small businesses, and public officials, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh.  Developers and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against this Clean Water Act restoration in the U.S. Congress, however.

“Wetland protection is a key piece of the Clean Water Act; Congress needs to act to continue to protect water and our wetlands,” stated Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association.  “Wetlands not only clean water of pollutants and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, they also provide significant flood storage.  In 1974, CRWA’s Rita Barron and the New England leaders of the US Army Corps of Engineers persuaded Washington to allow the Corps to protect 8,300 acres of wetlands in the Upper Charles rather than build levees. Those wetlands continue to store the equivalent of 20 % of the Charles River’s annual average flow during heavy rainstorms, protecting downstream communities from flooding.”

“Wetlands give us shelter from the storm, helping to protect our local communities around Massachusetts,” stated Sam Shepard with Environment Massachusetts.  “Congress should be fighting to restore our Clean Water Act so that it can do the job it was created to do.  We applaud Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey for standing up to powerful Washington special interests and championing the protection of our Clean Water Act.”



Environment Massachusetts Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.