Support Building for Removing Watertown Dam from Charles River

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Charlie Breitrose The Watertown Dam near Watertown Square slows the flow of the Charles River. A group is advocating removing the dam.

The group pushing to have the Watertown Dam removed from the Charles River received a major grant, and the effort got the support of the Charles River Chamber of Commerce.

The Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) has appealed to the Waertown City Council to support removing the dam located just west of the Galen Street Bridge in Watertown Square. The decision will be made at the state level, because it falls under the control of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

In December, the Council sent a letter in support of the effort, saying that the aging dam is at risk of failing, that it prevents fish from migrating upstream, and that doing so would “start to mend these wrongs and join with those indigenous voices who have been calling for years to remove the Watertown Dam and restore the river.”

River Grant

On March 23, the CRWA announced it had received a $1 million anonymous grant to accelerate work to restore the Charles River watershed.

“This is a game changer for the Charles River. We will be able to move much more quickly to remove defunct dams that are harming native fish, restore streams and tributaries in urban areas, and tackle invasive plants that crowd out native species,” Executive Director Emily Norton said in the announcement. “Over time, these actions will reconnect miles of stream, improve water quality, and restore aquatic habitat for fish, insects, and wildlife.”

The river has had dams on it for more than 400 years. The first dam in Watertown was a grist mill built in 1634 by early colonists. That was replaced by another dam in 1814. The current dam was built in 1955 after the previous one was damaged by Hurricane Diane. There were natural falls in the area prior to the first dam.

Chamber Support

The Charles River Regional Chamber also joined the voices calling for the removal of the Watertown Dam, saying that if the dam failed it could be harmful to businesses in Watertown and Newton, which lies on the other side of the river.

On March 28, the Chamber’s Executive Director, Greg Reibman, sent a letter to Rebecca Tepper, Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and Douglas Rice, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The letter reads:

Dear Secretary Tepper and Commissioner Rice:

On behalf of the businesses in Watertown and Newton located on both sides of the Charles River both up and downstream from the Watertown Dam, we are writing in support of controlled removal of the dam as both a means to restore the environment along the river and to protect infrastructure that could be in peril if there was to be a breach.

As climate change brings increases the risk of more extreme storms and flooding, we’re concerned that water could overwhelm the Galen Street Bridge and shut down roads and businesses along the river — including along Watertown Square, Charles River Road and Nonantum Road.

Conversely a feasibility study of removal of Watertown Dam found no change in flooding downstream of the dam post-removal and a six foot reduction upstream of the dam post removal.

We would be grateful to the Commonwealth and DCR for prioritizing further design, permitting, study and ultimately removal of the dam.

Greg Reibman
President, Charles River Regional Chamber

Copes of the letter were also sent to the Watertown City Council, Watertown Conservation Commission, CWRA Executive Director Emily Norton, Massachusetts Fish & Game Commissioner Ron Amidon, and Division of Marine Fisheries Commissioner Daniel McKiernan.

5 thoughts on “Support Building for Removing Watertown Dam from Charles River

  1. Receipt of the anonymous grant is very good news and will advance progress on removing the dam, which so many users of the Upper Charles River Greenway Healthy Trail bike path support.

  2. I was under the impression that this was already decided, and they just hadn’t done it yet. I am all for removal of the dam, especially if it keeps fish from spawning.

  3. Removal of the dam is long overdue. The fish ladder doesn’t even work, as it was constructed on the wrong side of the river, rather than on the side that fish originally chose for jumping the rapids. Since the Town Council has already voted in favor of dam removal–and since a majority of town citizens support that vote–what is the state waiting for?
    Liza Ketchum, Watertown

  4. The dam should be left intact, with a race diverting the water flow to run a hydroelectric generation platform which can supply power for all residents to benefit from. The river flows 24/seven and will be a constant source of green power.
    This is not the type of dam that retains water, so the flow of the river would be exactly the same with , or without that low head dam in place.

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