Mystic-Minuteman Bikeway study. / Town of Arlington photo

 3-year grant to help unit reach for $100m in public funding

The Arlington-based Mystic River Watershed Association is celebrating a $2.25 million, three-year grant from the Barr Foundation for continued support of the Resilient Mystic Collaborative and regional climate work.

Convened by the association and 10 watershed communities in September 2018 and now led by senior staff from 20 cities and towns and nongovernmental partners, the collaborative focuses on managing flooding and extreme heat on a regional scale and increasing the resilience of our most vulnerable residents and workers to extreme weather. 

Collectively, these communities have secured nearly $57 million for climate-resilient projects in the Mystic watershed, with the goal of securing an additional $100 million in public funding over the next three years.

“The Mystic River watershed needs to take collective and significant action to prepare for a stormier, hotter, and less predictable climate future,” said Patrick Herron, Mystic River association executive director, in a June 27 news release.

Pooler comments

“This funding enables our communities to achieve outsized public benefits and make progress on our goals of climate equity in  the watershed.”

Town Manager Sandy Pooler said in the release: "Several of Arlington's landmark climate projects in recent years relied on data and partnerships — as well as funding — secured by the Resilient Mystic Collaborative. This award from the Barr Foundation strengthens our ability to accomplish our climate planning goals collaboratively, such as preventing flooding and reducing extreme heat."

Barr Foundation Senior Program Officer Kalila Barnett said in the release: “We are pleased to be able to make this investment in the work of the collaborative. Their focus on closing climate equity gaps across especially race and income, and commitment to centering the needs and aspirations of people most affected by their efforts really align with our values.”

John Walkey, director of waterfront and climate justice initiatives at GreenRoots, said: “Because of Covid, many more people now understand what GreenRoots has been fighting for since its founding, to ensure that people in historically disinvested communities have the same ability to deal with challenges like climate change as people in wealthy communities. As a co-founder of the collaborative, I’m glad to see us work to effectively focus scarce public resources on the people who need them most.”

Katherine Watkins, Cambridge commissioner of public works, said: “The collaborative is leading regional collaboration to address the impacts of climate change across municipal boundaries and Cambridge is proud to be a part of this amazing organization. A perfect example of this is the Amelia Earhart Dam, which provides critical protection from coastal flooding to numerous communities, but is owned and operated by the state. Through the collaborative, the conversation about the dam has shifted from individual communities identifying the dam as being vulnerable to a coordinated effort with DCR to elevate the dam and other coastal flood pathways.”  

Ex-town employee speaks

Winchester Sustainability Director Ken Pruitt, a former Arlington employee, said his town "has been working to address increasing heat, flooding and water quality issues. Through our participation with the collaborative, we have access to resources and experts that are helping our community become more resilient to climate change. The collaborative is a valuable partner, and we are grateful for its support and collaboration."

Barbara Landau, partner at Noble, Wickersham & Heart, said: “When we worked with Cambridge on flood-mitigation planning for the Alewife neighborhood, it quickly became apparent that the city could not protect itself on its own. We understood that solutions had to be regional. That is when the collaborative stepped in and provided its terrific and effective framework for collaboration and the ability to secure funding for critical projects that benefit the region.” 

Julie Wormser, watershed association senior policy adviser, said: “Our success has been a blend of hard work, high trust, and very, very lucky timing,” said “Right now, the federal government is making a generational investment in equitable, climate-resilient, nature-based projects that make our communities safer, more just, and more beautiful.  Barr’s generous investment means that the collaborative is ready and able to leverage this funding to bring more priority projects to fruition.”

Mystic River Watershed at a glance

The 76-square-mile Mystic River Watershed stretches from Reading through the northern shoreline of Boston Harbor to Revere. An Anglicized version of the Pequot word missi-tuk (“large river with wind- and tide-driven waves”), it is now one of New England’s most densely populated, urbanized watersheds. 

The seven-mile Mystic River and its tributaries represented an early economic engine for colonial Boston. Ten shipyards built more than 500 clipper ships in the 1800s before roads and railways replaced schooners and steamships. Tide-driven mills, brickyards and tanneries along both banks of the river brought both wealth and pollution. 

In the 1960s, the Amelia Earhart Dam transformed much of the river into a freshwater impoundment, while construction of Interstate 93 filled in wetlands and dramatically changed the river’s course. Since then, many former industrial sites have been cleaned up and redeveloped into new commercial areas and residential communities.  

The Mystic is facing growing climate-related challenges: coastal and stormwater flooding, extreme storms, heat, drought and unpredictable seasonal weather.  The watershed is relatively low-lying and extensively developed, making it prone to both freshwater and coastal flooding. Its 21 municipalities are home to 600,000 residents, including many who are disproportionately vulnerable to extreme weather: environmental justice communities, new Americans, residents of color, elders, low-income residents and employees, people living with disabilities and English-language learners.   

Jan. 5, 2023: Arlington draws $1m of $12.9m in U.S. grants to extend bikeway


This news announcement was published Tueday, June 27, 2023, based on information from the Mystic River Watershed Association.