Solutions proposed for Union Square flooding

On July 18, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times


Last year’s Kingman Rd. flooding provided a stark example of how serious the problem in the area has become.
– Photo by Harry Kane

By Harry Kane

Excessive flooding remains problematic for residents during rain storms in parts of Somerville, especially in Ward 2, according to Alderman Maryann Heuston, who addressed the issue at the July 11 Board of Alderman meeting. Specifically, Heuston noted three streets that continue to be affected most by the rainstorms: Dane Avenue, Clark Street and Kingman Road.

“These are longstanding flood areas in Ward 2, wreaking havoc on residents, some residents for 50 or 60 years,” Heuston said.

Essentially the excess storm water, which causes the flooding on these specified streets, derives from obstructed water mains, and a lack of storage facilities for the water to be held. Currently, wastewater is taken to the facility on Deer Island, said Rob King, director of engineering in the City of Somerville. Since there is no river or brook for the water to drain into, flooding is prevalent in low-lying Union Square streets.

In an effort to reduce the flooding, the City of Somerville has created the Flood Forum Committee to analyze the aging sewer systems and devise a plan to resolve the issue by possibly creating underground storage tanks to hold the water during extreme rain events. Two of these holding tanks might be similar to a tank placed under Beacon Street by Star Market some 10 years ago, King said.

Engineering experts are trying to identify locations to construct these holding tanks. Should this project be funded, two of the proposed locations for underground tanks might be at the Nunziato Field Dog Park on Summer Street and Lincoln Park by the Argenziano School.

“We could be looking at projects that cost between $5 to $10 million,” King said. Most likely, the City of Somerville would be responsible for the money needed to fund the project, but during the Flood Forum Committee meeting on July 10, the city engineer was directed to contact Congressman Capuano for federal aid, which might offset the cost of the project.  But, King said, it is “economically viable” for the city to take on projects like this.


~Photo by Harry Kane.

There are some short-term solutions that the City of Somerville has been actively pursuing, one of which is the instillation of backflow preventers. Homeowners may be responsible for purchasing these individual preventers, but city officials are exploring the possibility of discounting the devices, according to Alderman Heuston.

The city engineer, and Stan Koty, the director of public works commissioner, have been ordered to inspect the catch basins. “The Sewer department Vactor Truck removes the debris from catch basins,” Commissioner Koty said.

The City of Somerville has some long term visionary plans for Union Square that would spruce up the neighborhood with the coming of the Green Line T station, and with these streetscape improvements, underground utilities will also be improved in order to mitigate the wastewaters causing the flooding.

As of July 8, the city took preliminary steps to identify long-term solutions by selecting the Parsons Brinkerhoff consulting firm to conduct a study for Union Square improvements. The firm will manage the project, initially receiving a $700,000 contract for the 25 percent design study, part of a multi-pronged infrastructure plan that would also incorporate improvements for water mains in Union Square.

Meanwhile, the National Water Main Cleaning Company is actively conducting an inspection and cleaning of the combined sewer lines in low-lying areas of Union Square. “They’re going manhole to manhole,” Alderman Heuston said. Apparently the system is “structurally sound” but Heuston said that the capacity is being reduced by approximately 30 percent because of obstructions in the pipes.



12 Responses to “Solutions proposed for Union Square flooding”

  1. Sue says:

    Do any of the engineers have any idea what happens to the water table when you build in an area already facing problems? The developments the city is proposing will wreak havoc in the area. People across the city have begun to experience minor flooding with the addition of just one small building. Anyone who thinks you can develop Union Square to such a degree without massive problems is incompetent and stupid. And Parsons Brinkerhoff? I thought they were barred from state contracts after their tunnel design killed someone.

  2. Harry says:

    We can always have a Union Square Aquarium! All the fools buying property in Union Square: pay attention!

  3. amen says:

    just another opinon–I know the basic problem is Miller’s River, but we have to look at the amount of Green Stuff being ripped up and paved over for condos, new driveway cuts, etc. The scorched earth dog park was once green grass. On my street rows of hedges have been replaced with lovely cement walls or fences. I think i’m the only one left with trees and shrubbery. All that water rolls right down my street to Union Sq. Much of it was absorbed by all that green stuff. Tree City? Try Condo City.

  4. Somerbreeze says:

    The catch basins on Lower Walnut St., just outside of Union Square, look to be ALWAYS clogged with crud whenever I occasionally pass by there–you gotta wonder how much all the OTHER catch basins are clogged, too….

  5. Penelope says:

    amen, you are right that too much has been paved over which changes the water table. However, that is not the problem with the dog park. Dogs running on grass, especially when it’s wet, and urinating on grass, kills the grass. As you saw, it doesn’t take very long.

  6. amen says:

    you misunderstand. my complaint is that becoming a dog park caused us to lose the grass, which helped with drainage. should have been left as green space for people, and to help with water. It’s just more space that changed from green to whatever, and it’s happening all over the city

  7. Bob says:

    Somerville’s drainage problems are a long time in the making. A significant number of homes have yards that are completely (or very nearly) paved. I just saw another beautiful side yard paved over with a new curb cut on Columbus Ave near the bend. And say what you want about the dog park (loud, smelly), but it’s not paved. The surface is some mix of gravel and dirt–very permeable.

  8. Ron Newman says:

    Before it was a dog park, that land (along with next-door Nunziato athletic field and the Community Growing Center up the hill) was Southern Junior High School. There’s a lot more green space now on Vinal Avenue than there was before.

  9. Penelope says:

    And why do you think people are paving their yards? #1, permit parking and #2, large developments without enough parking making it harder and harder for people to park, #3, Too many illegal apartments, rooming houses, etc., with more people living there than allowed by law.

  10. Bob says:

    @Penelope: I think much of the paving was simply done for convenience–it requires very little upkeep. You see it everywhere: front, side, and back yards that aren’t big enough to accommodate a car, but are paved over anyway–often right up to the lot line. I’ve even seen one yard’s pavement painted green! I am sure there are other reasons why people are paving, but I think personal preference is a significant part of it.

  11. A. Moore says:

    We paved as it was easier to maintain. Poor man’s patio in the back yard. No mowing or weeds to take care of. It’s the city, that’s what we did years ago here. Then some of us used to wash down the yard on a daily basis. It was a big thing in the fifties, everyone was envious of you, you had blacktop for a yard.

  12. amen says:

    Penelope is absolutely right. that’s the whole point. I know people used to pave. but it’s out of control because development and occupancy is out of control. That’s what happened on my street. it’s all gone for extra parking, and I agree permit parking had a lot to do with it. one house added two units (Thank you Zoning Board), chopped down street tree and a row of shrubbery for new driveway. They have a driveway on the other side, but want to shove more people in there.

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