Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Dec. 23 signed the City of Boston Local Wetland Ordinance, an ordinance unanimously approved by the Boston City Council last week with the goal of taking another step to protect Boston against the impacts of climate change, and promote climate resiliency throughout the City. The Local Wetlands Ordinance gives the City greater authority to protect its wetlands, which are crucial to controlling flooding and protecting Boston’s neighborhoods and green space. The ordinance directs the Boston Conservation Commission to consider future climate impacts like rising sea levels in applications for new developments, construction, or special events. This ordinance is stricter than statewide standards, and will help Boston protect its natural areas for years to come.
“This ordinance gives us greater power to protect our wetlands in the face of a changing climate,” said Mayor Walsh. “We’re using natural green space to protect our neighborhoods from storms, floods and heat waves. Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and this ordinance shows what we can accomplish when we work together, securing a strong, resilient future for Boston. This work has been a priority for my Administration, and I’m proud to sign this important ordinance with our partners today.”
Previously, the Conservation Commission followed only the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, which requires that any work proposed in a wetland resource area or within 100 feet of those areas be reviewed and issued a permit by the Conservation Commission. Under the new ordinance, standards will be stricter than state law. The City ordinance will now protect isolated vegetated wetlands, vernal pools and vernal pool habitat. The ordinance establishes a Waterfront Area which will serve as a buffer zone and allow for the implementation of the Mayor’s Resilient Boston Harbor Plan, as well as allow for the creation of Flood Resilience Zones expected to be aligned with the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s flood overlay district.
“As a coastal city, Boston is extremely vulnerable to the threat of climate change with rising sea levels,” said City Councilor Matt O’Malley and Chairman of the Environment, Sustainability and Parks Committee. “Policies such as this one ensure that we are protecting our current natural resource areas and local wetlands, while reducing impacts of global climate change.”
“This ordinance is a big step toward regulating development to match the scale and urgency of our climate vulnerability,” said Boston City Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu. “Boston should be taking every possible action to fight climate change, and I’m proud to have worked with community leaders to advance progress for climate justice.”
“Boston is viewed nationally and internationally as a leader in addressing the effects of climate change and the new local wetlands ordinance is an important tool in protecting and enhancing the City’s valuable wetlands resource areas, which serve as important protections against sea level rise,” said Michael Parker, Chair of the Conversation Commission. “The City is already seeing the effects of climate change and the ordinance will advance the goals of Climate Ready Boston by defending against sea level rise and strengthening floodplain protections. The Conservation Commission is eager to integrate the new ordinance into this important work.”
The major changes under the ordinance include giving the Conservation Commission authority to fully protect wetland resources including isolated vegetated wetlands, vernal pools and vernal pool habitat. These habitats are of critical importance because they provide many critical ecological services including the storage and filtration of stormwater, oxygen production, housing native plants and providing wildlife habitat.
The ordinance also allows the Commission to develop standards for projects in the floodplain to ensure future residents are protected from flooding, expressly directs the Commission to consider climate change, sea level rise, and climate resiliency in reviewing applications, and develop performance standards to ensure the City is adequately protected from those effects.
Flood Resilience Zones are a new, additional layer of protection that will be established through the Ordinance. These Zones will protect residents who could become subject to the impacts of climate change. This additional protection will require projects within the Flood Resilience Zone to go through Conservation Commission review, preparing homes and businesses for future flooding events. The Flood Resilience Zones will be further defined within the regulations and adopted by the Commission. They are expected to be aligned with the Boston Planning & Development Agency and the 2070 Climate Ready Boston maps.
“This ordinance will continue to support Resilient Boston Harbor, the Mayor’s vision for enhancing the waterfront and our city’s natural spaces while protecting our neighborhoods,” said Chris Cook, Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space. “Wetlands are a critically important component of this because they store and filter groundwater while acting as a buffer against storms and floods. With this ordinance, we are that much closer to achieving a connected and protective waterfront.”
“The ordinance provides a critical foundation for protecting and mimicking natural systems as we develop coastal protection around the city and absorb the precipitation from increasingly intense storms,” said Kathy Abbott, President and CEO of Boston Harbor Now. “These consistent and forward looking regulations assure that our wetlands and wildlands are our first line of defense against climate change and continue to help keep our citizens safe.”
This ordinance builds on Mayor Walsh’s work to create a climate-ready, resilient Boston. In 2018 the City launched Resilient Boston Harbor, which shows how a network of accessible open spaces and climate-ready buildings and infrastructure will increase resilience to major flooding events, while also increasing access and open space area along the waterfront. Like all the City’s current planning, it prepares the City for 40 inches of sea-level rise. Furthering the Mayor’s vision are a series of detailed neighborhood plans for coastal resilience. Coastal resilience plans are complete for parts of East Boston and Charlestown, for South Boston, and are underway for Downtown, the North End, and Dorchester.
Earlier this month, Mayor Walsh signed an executive order requiring all new municipal buildings to target a Zero Net Carbon standard. Under the executive order, new municipal building construction must aim to be low-energy and fossil fuel-free, while meeting its annual energy needs from a mix of on- and off-site renewable energy assets. This action accelerates the City’s leadership in climate action, keeping Boston on track to meet the goals outlined in the 2019 Climate Action Plan, as well as the Paris Agreement.
In addition, earlier this year, Mayor Walsh released the Zero Waste Boston plan, which will divert at least 80 percent of the City’s waste from landfills and municipal solid waste combustors by 2035. The City has begun implementing strategies, including expanding education and outreach campaigns around recycling in partnership with institutions like the New England Aquarium, and is currently developing curbside composting and textile recycling programs for residents. In his FY2020 budget, Mayor Walsh nearly tripled the City’s investment in Greenovate Boston to expand outreach to Boston residents and support community-level climate action. Since the investment, Greenovate launched a climate action guide for Boston residents to reduce their carbon footprint at home, at work, in school and in the city. Beginning this month, the City will host a series of trainings and dialogues throughout the community on climate change.