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Alewife Brook sewage campaign: Dredgery, Globe notices

Caption: Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A combined sewer overflow.

UPDATED Aug. 11: Precinct 13 Town Meeting member Kristin Anderson, who is monitoring the combined sewer overflows into the Alewife Brook, provided this update via her blog, Save the Alewife Brook.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s mention of dredging the Alewife Brook in its response to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority’s April 2022 draft scope for the new CSO control plan has revived the discussion about the role removing sediment from the Alewife Brook can play in restoration and flood prevention efforts.

Boston Globe takes note in kayak piece >>

The EPA recommends MWRA include dredging the Alewife Brook as part of the alternatives analysis for the new Control Plan.

July 9 2022. On the Alewife, Kristin Anderson of Save the Alewife Brook sets out to measure sediment depth.On the Alewife July 9, Kristin Anderson sets out to measure sediment depth.

Elimination of combined sewer overflows and sewage pollution in the brook must be achieved through continued sewer separation in Cambridge and Somerville.

But sewer separation means removing stormwater from the sanitary sewer system. Once it’s removed, that stormwater has to go somewhere, and that somewhere is the Alewife Brook.

Increasing the amount of stormwater flowing to the Alewife Brook could increase the threat of area flooding. Therefore, flood mitigation measures must be taken alongside sewer separation.

The EPA suggests that one way to accommodate an increase in stormwater would be to increase the Alewife Brook’s storage and flow capacity by dredging the channelized portion of the brook.

Time dredge brook to increase capacity, prevent flooding

In its response letter, the EPA quotes a 2005 U.S. Geological Survey study that estimated sediment volume in the Alewife Brook at approximately half a million cubic feet. In 1988, one of many moments when the idea of dredging the Alewife was floated, the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC – precursor of both MWRA and the Department of Conservation & Recreation) commissioned a study to determine what was in the sediment. This was necessary to determine how to dispose of the dredged material. When testing indicated that the material was toxic enough to require disposal at a Certified Waste Disposal Site, the MDC’s enthusiasm for dredging faded. If EPA are now endorsing consideration of dredging, then it may be an idea whose time has finally come.

Our Measurements Suggest a Doubling of Sediment Since 1988

Save the Alewife Brook's David White and David Stoff reel in the Alewife's Save the Alewife Brook's David White and David Stoff reel in the Alewife's "catch-o-the-day": a microwave oven.

On a fine summer day in July, three members of Save the Alewife Brook set out to measure the depth of sediment at the 1988 testing sites. Equipped with a precision hand-crafted measuring tool – a 5-foot steel rod with a ruled scale ground onto it – and a hand-built canoe. We dropped the boat in at John Wald Park in Cambridge.

It’s no surprise that the amount of sediment has increased since 1988, given three decades of sewage discharges, and infrequent removal of branches and trash. At the center of the Little River opposite MWRA’s CSO MWR003 (‘CCSO’ on the map), our tester measured a sediment depth of approximately 36 inches. That’s double the 18 inches recorded in 1988. Further upstream, adjacent to 20 Acorn Drive (‘AB03’), the sediment measurement was 48 inches. That’s an increase of 18 inches over the 1988 measurement.

Now is the time to consider dredging the Alewife Brook. Removing the sediment could provide immediate benefits in terms of capacity, flow, and improved water quality. Federal Infrastructure Law funds can get this done.


EPA’s May 11 2022 Response to MWRA’s Draft Scope of Work

MWRA Updated CSO Control Plan – Draft Scope of Work and Schedule 04/01/2022

2005 USGS Sediment Study of Rivers and Lakes

1988 Little River / Alewife Brook Sediment Survey


February through June: Alewife Brook sewage campaign updates


This viewpoint, from Save the Alewife, was published Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, and updated Aug. 11. 

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