Charles River Dam

Natick Dam pic by drone

,Owned and maintained by the Town, the Charles River Dam in South Natick is permitted through the Commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) Office of Dam Safety. The dam is classified the dam as a High Hazard dam. Recent inspections completed by the Town identified some deficiencies in the dam that will need addressing in the coming years, requiring significant investment to either replace or remove the dam.

Recommendation by the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee

The Town of Natick recognized the importance of the Charles River Dam in South Natick to the community, and thus appointed an advisory committee that comprised a diverse set of stakeholders and expertise to evaluate all options and recommend a path forward to Town leaders.

The Charles River Dam Advisory Committee’s membership reflects more than 150 years of combined public service, and includes representatives from many municipal boards and commissions, Town Meeting, abutters, the Natick Nipmuc Indian Council, Town staff and more. Click here to see a list of Charles River Dam Advisory Committee members.

From May 2021 - September 2022, the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee met 14 times, distributed extensive community surveys, engaged with homeowners directly abutting the Charles River, received presentations from representatives of the Natick Nipmuc community, and met with various experts. 

Following the completion of this process, the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee recommended removing the spillway and restoring the Charles River. Sixteen of the 18 Committee members (89%) voted to recommend removing the spillway and restoring the river. Two members (11%) voted to recommend repairing the dam, but said they could live with removing the spillway. The Charles River Dam Advisory Committee published a final report detailing its findings and rationale on September 7, 2022, and presented the report to the Select Board on September 21, 2022. 

This webpage documents the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee's research, including technical reports, community input, and presentations from issue experts on flooding and safety, ecology, history and culture, community use and recreation, and financial impacts.

The Charles River Dam Advisory Committee's final report is available here: FINAL REPORT SEPT 7, 2022

Next steps in the decision-making process are with the Natick Select Board. The Select Board is accepting public comments at their meetings on September 28, 2022 and October 3, 2022. Select Board meeting agendas are posted at https://naticktown.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/


Past Advisory Committee Meetings


April 5, 2021 @ 4:30 - 6:00 PM ET | Meeting #1 (Introductions and Work Plan)


September 2, 2021 @ 4:00 - 6:00 PM ET | Meeting #2 (Community Engagement Findings)


September 22, 2021 @ 4:00 - 6:00 PM ET | Meeting #3 (Flooding and Safety)


October 2, 2021 @ 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM ET | Meeting #4  (Site Visit to Shawsheen River, Andover MA)


October 14, 2021 @ 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #5 (Ecological Impacts)


November 9, 2021 @ 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #6 (Cultural History and Indigenous Perspective)


November 15, 2021 @ 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM ET | Meeting #7 (Site Visit to Eames Mill and Patch Reservoir Dams)


December 14, 2021 @ 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM ET | Meeting #8 (Abutters)

January 25, 2022 @ 4:00 PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #9 (Community Use and Recreation) 

June 14, 2022 @ 4:00PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #10 (Project Updates and Concept Elements)

June 27, 2022 @ 4:00PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #11 (Stantec Findings and Financial Impacts)

July 19, 2022 @ 4:00PM - 7:00 PM ET | Meeting #12 (Community Input and Deliberation)

July 26, 2022 @ 4:00PM - 6:30 PM ET | Meeting #13 (Developing Recommendation)

September 7, 2022 @ 5:00PM - 7:00 PM ET | Meeting #14 (Finalizing Report to Select Board)

Community Engagement

The Town would like to gather as much input as possible from the Natick community to inform the Advisory Committee’s deliberations and recommendations. In May and June of 2021, the Town conducted its initial round of community engagement on the future of the Charles River Dam in South Natick. Activities included:

  • May 17, 2021 Public Information Session

  • May 25 and 26, 2021 - Community Input Sessions

  • Spring 2021 - Engagement with middle school students

  • Summer 2021 - Online Community Survey

  • December 2021 - January 2022 Community Use and Recreation Survey

  • June 2022 - Second engagement with middle school students

  • July 2022 - Community consultation period

  • Additional forms of written input

Click here to read a synthesis of the community input collected in May and June of 2021 through the above activities.

Click here to read a summary of the December 2021 - January 2022 Community Use and Recreation Survey

 

Abutters Meetings

In November 2021, the Town held input meetings for upstream and downstream abutters to inform the Advisory Committee's deliberations and recommendations. Two separate meetings were held: one for upstream abutters (November 15) and one for downstream abutters (November 16). Participants listened to some brief remarks about the options the Advisory Committee is discussing and then shared their thoughts, comments, and concerns. As a follow up to the meetings, Town staff worked to develop an FAQ document. The summary of input shared at the abutters meetings and the FAQ are available below.

 

Dam History and Current Use

The Dam spanning the Charles River in South Natick was constructed in 1934; it is owned and maintained by the Town of Natick. The Dam is regulated by a permit issued by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office Dam Safety (DCR-ODS) and is considered a High Hazard dam due to the potential for loss of life and significant property damage in the event of dam failure.

A dam/impoundment structure has been present in this area of the Charles River since the 1700s. 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 earthfill embankment, stone masonry, and concrete structure. Today, the impoundment formed by the Dam creates a pond area that is used for aesthetic and recreational purposes. The Dam serves no functional purpose and does not provide flood control.

Residents who are interested in learning more about the dam’s history, are encouraged to review the research published by Charlotte Diamant, a student at Wellesley College available here. The Charles River Dam Advisory Committee's Indigenous representatives also shared a history of the river and dams during the Committee's November 9, 2022 meeting, available here.

You can watch a video of Ms. Diamant presenting her findings, as part of Natick's 2020 Virtual Earth Day Festival, here.

 

Project Goal

The Code of Massachusetts Regulations (302 CMR 10.13) states that a dam owner is responsible for damage to the property of others and any injuries resulting from the operation or failure of a dam. For this purpose, the Town of Natick utilizes the services of a professional consultant to perform biennial safety and condition inspections of the South Natick Dam. Due to the extensive mature tree growth on the earthen dam, the condition of the dam has consistently been rated as "Fair," and removal of the trees has been recommended in order to minimize the risk of dam failure.

Based on these inspections and per the guidance of DCR-ODS, rehabilitating or removing the dam was identified as a priority in the Town of Natick’s 2010 Hazard Mitigation Plan, 2018 Hazard Mitigation Plan Update and 2017 Community Resilience Building Report. In response, Town Meeting allocated funds to rehabilitate the structure. 

 

Project Efforts to-Date

Rehabilitation Analysis

In 2019, the Town of Natick engaged a dam engineering consultant to provide engineering and design services to rehabilitate the South Natick Dam. The rehabilitation project was expected to include retaining the dam’s current configuration and spillway elevation. Rehabilitating the dam would involve the removal of all trees and woody vegetation, re-grading earthen embankment slopes, installing riprap slope protection, repairing the concrete spillway and retaining walls and replacing the currently inoperable low-level outlet gate structure. During public meetings, residents raised concerns regarding the removal of 60 trees located on the dam’s right embankment and attendees asked the Town to consider alternative solutions that would preserve the area’s aesthetics and recreational function, but reduce public safety risk. The Town agreed to consider restoring the river as an alternative, which would require breaching or removing the concrete spillway.

River Restoration Analysis

As a first step in evaluating the feasibility of a dam decommissioning/river restoration option, the Town engaged a consultant to obtain and analyze sediment samples upstream and downstream of the dam. Laboratory results found the sediments’ quality would not be an impediment to the spillway’s removal should that option be chosen.

Following the favorable sediment results, in early 2020, the Town received a grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to further evaluate the feasibility of breaching the dam and restoring the associated river channel. The Town has contracted with a consultant to complete this work and findings from this analysis should be available in July 2020. At that point in time, the Town anticipates conducting an extensive public outreach program to inform next steps.