MIDDLESEX - A handful of Lynnfield residents and town officials recently predicted that a changing climate will likely exacerbate existing water supply issues, potentially threaten the community's Reedy Meadow and Beaver Dam Brook conservation areas, and result in widespread flooding and storm damage issues.
Now, local officials and consultants from engineering firm Comprehensive Environmental Inc. (CEI) want to know whether there's widespread community consensus about those findings.
In recent weeks, Town Engineer Charles Richter has been circulating the findings of a municipal preparedness grant program (MVP) workshop led by CEI earlier this winter as part of Lynnfield's quest to tap into millions of dollars in potential infrastructure restoration and development grants.
According to Richter, in the coming days and weeks — the exact timeline has likely since been confused by the COVID-19 crisis — Lynnfield leaders hope to seek out funding based upon the 43-page climate change report compiled by CEI.
"The state awards communities with funding to complete vulnerability assessments and develop action-oriented resiliency plans. Communities who complete the MVP program become certified as MVP communities and are eligible for MVP action grant funding and other opportunities," the town engineer explained in an open letter to town residents.
Town officials now request help from Lynnfield residents. CEI has developed a MVP draft plan and listening session for a comprehensive understanding of Lynnfield's MVP plan," he continued. "At the end of the listening sessions, residents are strongly encouraged to complete the brief online survey."
During the MVP workshop in early February, CEI representatives circulated climate change models that forecast potentially devastating environmental and public safety risks arising from more severe winter storms and rainy seasons, temperature increases that could render Massachusetts' climate more akin to South Carolina's, and more frequent experiences with droughts.
According to workshop facilitator Bob Hartzel, of CEI, climatologists are already worried about present day temperature spikes, which have reportedly increased by an average of 3 degrees Fahrenheit (F) across the state since 1895.
"We've seen increases in associated temperatures and growing seasons and sea level rises," said Hartzel, who last month provided residents with a synopsis of the workshop findings. "Based on these projections, it is expected average temperatures and rainfall will continue to increase. The average temperature is expected to increase by 9 degrees F by the year 2100."
Presented with those climate forecasts, which include more intense snowstorms and wild weather events like hurricanes more commonly making landfall in New England, town leaders and other workshop participants worried most about extreme rain and drought events.
Worried about worse flooding events in areas around Pillings Pond Dam and from the downstream release of water from the Saugus River Dam in neighboring Lynn, stakeholders also suggested that Lynnfield's major thoroughfares and side streets could also be rendered impassible by more frequent tree damage and power outages.
"Fallen tree limbs have resulted in localized power outages and storm damage is increasing from uniform-aging trees arose town," the MVP workshop attendees concluded. "Flooding of key arterial streets may impede emergency response and there is a need for more formalized evacuation routes."
On the opposite side of the weather spectrum, local stakeholders are also concerned about the repercussions of extreme droughts and temperate spikes that could bring new invasive species to sensitive conservation areas like Reedy Meadow.
According to those concerned about those low-rainfall impacts, Lynnfield already struggles with water supply issues by the town's key Lynnfield Center district, while the lack of fire infrastructure in neighborhoods on the northern side of Lowell Street could prove problematic should brush fires and similar hazards become commonplace.
According to Hartzel, to illustrate their point, some recalled a series of brush fires in the Reedy Meadow area in 2015.
"Water demands are increasing and supply is at risk during droughts," the MVP workshop audience members concluded.
Ultimately, the group recommended Lynnfield take three actions in order to address the community's most serious vulnerabilities.
First, town officials are being asked to reexamine Lynnfield's stormwater and drainage system to see where improvements and needs are most necessary. As part of that concentration, participants feel the community should consider inking new easement deals in order to guarantee access to that infrastructure.
The group also claimed the community's Reedy Meadow and Beaver Dam Brook resource areas needed to be assessed to reconsider potential flooding, brush fire, and invasive species risks in the face of a changing climate.
Key to that solution was joining with municipal officials in Lynn and other Saugus River Dam area officials to develop a more coordinated management plan. According to the workshop members, that corridor study was needed to be sure flooding risks, water supply concerns, and the protection of the delicate conservation spaces are properly balanced in the future.
Lastly, the group felt the town needed to do more to address water quality and supply issues with the Lynnfield Center Water District, including around sections of Lowell Street without access to fire suppression infrastructure.
Some other key recommendations by the group included:
• Updating the Pillings Pond Management Plan to include decision support for dam management based on real-time data and weather forecasts;
• Perform study to evaluate needs for expanded sheltering capacity and amenities (note: study has already been performed to evaluate potential locations);
• Continue efforts to pass Open Space Residential Development and Tree Preservation bylaws;
• and the removal of hazardous trees as identified by previous study, and replant in accordance with bylaw.
Lynnfield officials were able to retain CEI and complete the draft MVP plan thanks to a $15,000 grant obtained in the spring of 2019. Established in 2017, the MVP program has helped nearly 200 communities across Massachusetts with the development of similar climate change strategies.
As of last spring, nearly $10 million was allocated to the handful of cities and towns that have applied for funding and obtained approval of MVP action plans. According to Richter, Lynnfield hopes to complete its paperwork and submit it to the state before the start of the FY'21 fiscal year.