Congresswoman Katherine Clark visited City Hall Monday to announce $240,000 in federal funding for a climate-related project in Watertown. The City will use the money to install 15 tree trenches designed to remove pollutants from the Charles River and cool temperatures by providing more trees on City streets.
The Department of Public Works applied for the money after hearing about the funding, said Watertown DPW Superintendent Greg St. Louis. The tree trenches will be installed as part of road repair projects.
“Ever year throughout town we review our roads with the pavement management index report and choose several streets to invest local and state dollars in our roadways,” St. Louis said. “So, these tree trenches will be incorporated into road projects throughout town.”
The trenches will also help Watertown meet the Environmental Protection Agency requirement to remove phosphorus from the Charles River.
“We are in year five of our MS4 permit, so we are required by EPA guidelines to remove a certain amount of pounds of phosphorus from the Charles River,” St. Louis said. “These are instrumental. One of the ways we can address phosphorus is by infiltrating stormwater (into the ground).”
Clark said the tree trenches work to help the climate in three ways.
“This straightforward investment delivers a sustainability hat trick: absorbing climate warming pollutants out of the air, filtering pollutants out of the ground and the Charles River, and reducing extreme summer temperatures for everyone,” Clark said.
Clark called Watertown a leader in climate and environmental initiatives.
“Watertown is showing what is possible when we commit to building healthier, cleaner communities for our kids,” she said.
City Manager George Proakis said the tree trenches are just one of several recent green initiatives in Watertown. He said many people deserve credit for making them a reality.
“Together with my administration here in Watertown, elected officials, volunteer communities and boards, and community advocates for the environment — of which we have many dedicated advocates — we and Watertown have been, and will continue to have, bragging rights on many environmental firsts and will lead New England in green initiatives,” Proakis said.
Some of the other initiatives he cited were the two recently built net-zero energy elementary schools, and the second-in-the-nation net-zero energy and LEED Platinum high school which is set to begin construction this summer. Also, in 2018 the City was the first community to require solar panels on new large buildings, in August 2022 the Council adopted the Resilient Watertown Climate Action Plan, and in January Watertown became the first community to adopt the state’s opt-in Specialized Stretch Building Code.
The Watertown tree trench project is one of several that will be funded in Clark’s Congressional District. In total, more than $20 million will be coming to the 5th Massachusetts, including $11 million for eight climate resiliency and environmental justice projects in Arlington, Cambridge, Framingham, Malden, Revere, Watertown, and Woburn.
Watertown State Rep. Steve Owens added that the federal funding came from the Inflation Reduction Act, which was passed in the same three week period that the Watertown City Council approved the Climate Resiliency plan, and when the state Legislature passed its Driving the Climate Forward Act.
“So, we are really working at the local, at the state, and at the federal level to fight climate change and to make sure the impacts of climate change are done in a way that would protect our communities,” Owens said.
Tree Trench Plan
The City of Watertown provided the following description of the Tree Trench project:
1. Project Description:
The City received a grant to support green infrastructure allowing us to install 15 Stormwater Tree Trenches within the City of Watertown. The grant will cover the cost of excavation, installation of a crushed stone base, perforating the pipe, backfilling, connection to either an existing or a new catch basin & loam and seed for each tree trench unit.
Stormwater tree trenches are designed to reduce & treat stormwater runoff & recharge groundwater. This will allow the City to reduce phosphorus loading to the Charles River by filtering & infiltrating runoff. It also supports the City’s efforts and goals of its Stormwater Management Plan under the EPA’S Municipal Separate Storm Water System permit program as well as supports the City’s municipal vulnerability program.
2. Taxpayer Benefits:
Green infrastructure mimics natural processes to capture, infiltrate, and treat rainfall and stormwater runoff which, if not properly treated, can carry pollutants into water bodies and be harmful to public health and safety. Tree trenches remove pollutants such as phosphorus before water is discharged into the Charles River.
Precipitation events are becoming increasingly intense due to climate change & the stormwater infrastructure designed decades ago is now undersized which can cause stormwater flooding. Flooding can also occur in areas with high amounts of impervious surfaces. Tree trenches enhance groundwater recharge in highly paved neighborhoods.
Urban heat islands occur when natural land cover is replaced with dense concentrations of pavement. Stormwater tree trenches improve air quality as trees absorb pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide and produce oxygen. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, helping to sequester climate-warming pollutants and lessen Watertown’s contribution to global climate change.