Charles River

Natick Select Board Votes 4-1 to Remove Aging Charles River Dam

A dam that has stood on the Charles River since 1934 will be removed after a vote from town leaders in Natick, Massachusetts; if not removed, the dam was in need of major repairs, as a breach of the structure holding 160 million gallons of water would be catastrophic

NBC10 Boston

Town leaders in Natick, Massachusetts, have voted to remove an iconic but aging dam on the Charles River.

The dam, which passes through South Natick Dam Park, has stood for nearly 90 years, but its condition as deteriorated. It holds 160 million gallons of water, and a breach would be catastrophic.

A 4-1 vote by Natick's select board Wednesday brought an end to a debate of whether to remove the dam or repair it.

The Charles River Dam is at risk of a catastrophic breach, and it must be repaired, or else the spillway has to be removed.

Removing the structure will restore the natural flow of the river. If the town had opted to repair it, dozens of trees would have had to be taken down.

The dam's removal is expected to take at least three years and cost about $1.5 million; it is estimated that its repair would have cost over $2 million with future maintenance costs.

Robert Kearns, a climate resilience specialist with the Charles River Watershed Association, told NBC10 Boston over the summer that he supported removing the spillway, arguing that the water being impounded warms it and leads to harmful algae blooms; he also said it disrupts the passage of fish.

The fate of a serene spot in Natick is up in the air.

Several residents along the river told NBC10 Boston they oppose removal of the spillway, in part because it would change the width and depth of the water, making it challenging to kayak in drier seasons.

"This spillway, the dam, is a cornerstone of this environment, and if they remove it, we'll lose our pond and it will become essentially a dry, muddy creek like the rest of the Charles River beneath the spillway," said resident Brad Peterson.

"It is part of my everyday life throughout the winter and summer, and for there not to be a body of water to kayak in during the summer would be devastating," said Steve Dannin. "Not only for me and my family and our neighbors, but the whole town."

The South Natick Dam was constructed in 1934. According to the Town of Natick, a dam or impoundment structure has been present in the area since the 1700s, and historic documents indicate a timber dam that once served local mills was destroyed by a flood in the early 1930s and replaced in 1934 with the current configuration: an earth fill embankment, stone masonry and concrete structure. Today, it serves no functional purpose and does not provide flood control.

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