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Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

3 ways CRWA uses nature-based solutions to reduce floods, droughts and water pollution

Posted by Kate Bowditch

3/22/18 1:06 PM

Today, as I write this post, it’s World Water Day, celebrated around the world as an opportunity to highlight successes, share ideas and stories and focus attention on the importance of water. This year’s World Water Day theme is ‘Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.

How can we reduce floods, droughts and water pollution? By using the solutions we already find in nature.

At CRWA, we’ve been building natural solutions across the watershed for many years. We’re proud to be leaders in the world of water protection. Our Blue Cities Initiative is a great example of using nature to help solve some of our biggest water challenges.

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Reducing Floods

In undeveloped streams and watersheds, nature is adapted to manage floods. Forests, meadows and wetlands absorb rainwater, reducing flood volumes and slowing them down. CRWA’s Blue Cities designs – from smaller residential rain gardens to green roofs and large scale vegetated recharge areas – help the urbanized watershed function more like a natural watershed, using soils and vegetation to reduce flooding.

CRWA’s raingarden on Everett Street in North Allston

CRWA’s raingarden on Everett Street in North Allston

Reducing the impacts of droughts


Natural systems are well adapted to their climate, including occasional droughts. In this region, our trees, wetlands and streams remain vibrant during droughts in large part because we have soils that are good at retaining water, and large areas of groundwater and deep sand and gravel aquifers. Even when we haven’t had rain for many weeks, water that is stored in the ground provides baseflows in our streams and helps thirsty plants stay healthy. But our aquifers and groundwater supplies are threatened by overpumping, and by the paving over of aquifer recharge areas. These threats are growing with climate change, which brings hotter weather and longer droughts. CRWA’s work to minimize the impacts of well withdrawals and protect vital aquifer areas helps keep the Charles and its tributaries flowing, even during long dry periods.

Bogastow Brook

Bogastow Brook in the upper Charles watershed

Reducing Water Pollution

Nature generates very little waste. Nutrients, bacteria, sediments, and even heat – byproducts of thriving ecosystems - are recycled and reused in complex natural cycles. In cities, we treat these  byproducts as waste, and build expensive infrastructure to manage them: sewers, drains, diffusers. At CRWA, we are working to capture and reuse these “wastes,” turning them into valuable, marketable products and restoring natural systems. Our Community Water and Energy Resource Centers (CWERCs) will help reduce the impacts of our huge wastewater infrastructure systems, cutting down on pollution and creating small, neighborhood-scale solutions that treat “waste” like nature does – as a resource.

Rendering of the Stony Brook

Rendering of the Stony Brook, a stream in Boston that is currently buried in pipes, but could be restored with streamflows from a CWERC. 

Support this Innovative Work


With your help we can emulate nature to prevent flooding, reduce drought and decrease water pollution.
We are raising $2,500 today from members, supporters, volunteers and river lovers to support CRWA's innovative work implementing nature based solutions. Thanks to a very generous challenge grant from the Blossom Fund, each gift on World Water Day from a new donor will be matched 2:1. If you have never given to Charles River Watershed Association before, now is your chance to triple the power of your gift!  For returning donors, the Blossom Fund will match your donation dollar for dollar. Thank you for your generous support in any amount. 

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Topics: Charles River, Climate Change, Climate Change Adaptation, Stormwater, Green Infrastructure, climate change boston, Blue Cities, Low Impact Development

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About Charles River Watershed Association:

One of the country's oldest watershed organizations, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles. Since its earliest days of advocacy, CRWA has figured prominently in major clean-up and watershed protection efforts, working with government officials and citizen groups from 35 Massachusetts watershed towns from Hopkinton to Boston. Initiatives over the last fifty years have dramatically improved the quality of water in the watershed and fundamentally changed approaches to water resource management.