Charles River Flood Model Project (CRFM)

What is the Charles River Flood Model Project?

The Charles River Flood Model (CRFM) is a watershed-scale simulation developed with twenty cities & towns to show how increased precipitation and inland flooding will affect our communities and test out mitigation solutions. It shows flooding under future climate projections for 2030 and 2070, with approximate location and depth of flooding. It covers the Charles River from Watertown and Newton all the way upstream to Milford and Hopkinton, with all results available online here. Because flooding doesn’t follow political boundaries, the CRFM demonstrates the regional impacts of flooding, such as how upstream activities can affect downstream flooding. 

The project has five main objectives. The first is to use the CRFM to identify and assess various alternative approaches to mitigate flooding. The second objective is to develop concept designs for numerous flood mitigation projects, both site-specific and at a neighborhood scale. The third is to meaningfully engage the community in climate adaptation planning activities, and the fourth is to conduct culvert assessments. The final objective is to publish a Charles River Climate Adaptation Flood Mitigation Plan.

This initiative is a collaboration between Charles River Watershed Association, twenty cities and towns of the Charles River Climate Compact (CRCC), Weston & Sampson, and Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW). With our regional outlook, we're able to better understand inland flooding impacts and determine the most effective solutions. Participating communities include Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dedham, Dover, Franklin, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Natick, Needham, Newton, Sherborn, Waltham, Watertown, Wellesley, Weston, Wrentham. The CRFM is funded through the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVO) program, which supports city and town climate change resiliency as well as the implementation of priority projects like tree planting or dam removal. 

Where is the project now?

The project is currently in Phase 3 of development. Phase 1 of the project was the development of the Flood Model for the upper and middle Charles River Watershed, which was completed in 2021. The shown future climate storm scenarios for the CRFM were determined following the recommendation of the state’s Resilient Mass Action Team (RMAT).You can learn more about Phase 1 here

Completed in 2022, Phase 2 was to use the CRFM to  identify over fifty opportunities for flood mitigation projects and to select three priority interventions in Waltham, Newton, and Medway. The flood model was updated with finer details, additional model runs were completed, and the storm event modeling was updated to use Intensity Duration Frequency (IDF) Projections from Cornell University. You can learn more about Phase 2 here.

Phase 3’s focus is on community engagement, which is where CREW’s role in the partnership comes in to bring the CRFM to you. We take a hyper-local approach to outreach so that we can best educate and empower the residents of the watershed about climate preparedness and solutions. 

What’s been learned so far? 

Here are some key takeaways from what has been learned from the CRFM so far.

  1. Future flood risks are significant
  2. Downstream and highly developed communities will be most impacted
  3. Regional collaboration is key: Solutions and impacts may be in different communities, so multiple solutions and approaches will be needed
  4. We should get started now
  5. We can do things to reduce future flooding impacts (ex: Updating regulations to require flood storage)
  6. We can do things to exacerbate future flooding impacts (ex: Not valuing the flood protection properties of undeveloped areas)

What do solutions look like?

The project focuses on nature-based solutions (NBS), which are sustainable management practices or infrastructure which use or mimic natural features and processes. THE CRFM was used to model the impact of four types of NBS (building green stormwater infrastructure, reducing impervious cover, land conservation, and increase in tree canopy in fifty potential opportunities for flood storage. Of these fifty sites modeled, the project team identified three priority flood storage intervention methods and developed concept designs for Oakland Park, Medway, Hardy Pond, Waltham, Albemarle Park, Newton

An essential part of making these solutions work is engaging the community and preparing them for climate change. CREW centers resilience in community engagement, meaning that we want communities to adapt and even thrive when faced with adversity, crises, trauma, tragedy, or any other source of stress. Climate change and its impacts, such as extreme weather events like unpredictable storms, increased precipitation, and sea level rise can be a source of this stress. Connection to place is essential for community resilience. When environments are changing so quickly, we need the physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of place as a source of refuge, inspiration, and support. 

What this means in practice is providing place-based engagement opportunities that are individualized for communities. In these programs, members can learn about active and forthcoming changes to their environment as well as paths for adaptation and resilience, and even participate in the implementation of those solutions.

What we plan to do next and how to get involved:

The future of the project is to focus on these place-based projects. From now until June, we will be focusing on site-specific and neighborhood scale projects. This involves working with community partners to provide informational and participatory opportunities to their community members. We are especially putting effort towards programs supporting those with intersectional vulnerabilities, such as those experiencing food insecurity and climate vulnerability. To get involved: 

  1. Check back for online meetings and virtual events
  2. Visit us at an in-person community event near you

From July on, we will focus our efforts on watershed scale planning. A watershed-scale view accounts for the 80 miles of the Charles River, 35 towns in the watershed, over 1 million residents, 20 dams, and 308 mi2 of the watershed. To get involved:

  1. Online meetings & surveys
  2. In person events
  3. Updated Flood Mitigation Plan

If you have questions or would like to get in contact with us about bringing CRFM programs to your community, please reach out to the Project Coordinator Leigh Meunier at her email address [email protected] or by phone at 609-412-1865. 

Be sure to review these resources if you are searching for flooding preparedness support:

  1. Resilience hubs 
  2. Tips & tools - American Red Cross, Cruz Roja Americana
  3. Just & Equitable Planning - Center for Progressive Reform’s From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery