How the Charles River is affected by drought

“It’s definitely a disgusting scene,” Katharine Lange, a policy specialist at the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“This is indicative of what we’re seeing across the state,” Lange said. “We have many streams that have dried up this summer. The Charles scene is ugly, but unfortunately not unique in Massachusetts. “

According to the latest map released by the federal government’s official drought monitoring service, more than half of Massachusetts is experiencing severe drought conditions.

The U.S. Drought Monitoring Map shows that, with drought spreading to Cape Cod last week, 57.2 percent of the state is in severe drought, including much of central Massachusetts and all of mainland eastern Massachusetts. . The rest of the state has moderate drought conditions, with the exception of a sliver on the western border which is simply abnormally dry.

Many communities have put in place restrictions on outdoor water use.

Ron Horwood, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Northeast River Forecast Center, said Wednesday that most rivers and streams in central and eastern Massachusetts flow in the lowest 10th percentile of all recorded observations, which means the 90 % of the recorded flows was higher.

Water levels in parts of the Charles River are now at historic lows, as seen in Millennium Park Thursday.Erin Clark / The Globe Staff

Conditions on the Charles River in Dover are particularly dire and the river is close to breaking the low-flow record at that point. Current flow is 10 cubic feet per second, when the all-time low for this time of year is 9.3 cubic feet per second

It is “quite possible,” Horwood said, that the record of more than 84 years of observation will be broken.

Flow measurements on the Charles improve, but only marginally, as the river winds towards Boston, he said. The river flow measurements taken at Wellesley and Waltham are in the 4th and 7th percentile respectively.

“The flows are really, really scarce,” he said.

“We need rain. We really need rain, “Lange said.” Without that, we don’t have the recharge we need. “

Roslindale’s Billy Harrow paddles his kayak to a canoe launch on the Charles River at Millennium Park in 2016, when the river level was at its highest.John Tlumacki / Globe Staff / File

Some areas of the state, including Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex counties, Horwood said, they received 6 to 8 inches less rain than normal.

“We have been in an increasingly intense drought for the past two months,” he said.

The little rain that fell came at times when temperatures were high, causing the water to evaporate quickly, “so it’s really a double whammy,” he said.

Other rivers hit hard include the Ipswich River, the Parker River, and the Neponset River, he said. The Neponset at Norwood broke the lowest flow record in 82 years of observation.

A dog footprint is dried in the mud in the Charles River at Millennium Park.Erin Clark / The Globe Staff

Horwood said the Boston area has a significant advantage in one respect: Quabbin Reservoir, which is the source of water for dozens of communities served by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, including Boston., it is “such a large reservoir that it takes years before it is hit by a drought.”

Will the barren landscape have a break soon?

“We don’t see any ruinous rain coming soon” to make up for the rainfall deficit, Horwood said. While there may be showers or thunderstorms here and there early next week, they will only offer “localized relief”.

Data from the Charles River Watershed Association’s monthly volunteer monitoring program shows that the water level at the Route 109 bridge upstream of Millennium Park was 2.5 meters in March. By July it had dropped to 4.04 feet. This is a big difference from July 2021, when the water level at that location was 7.42 feet.

“The water levels are incredibly low and speak of rapidly increasing drought conditions,” said Julia Hopkins, a spokesperson for the Charles River Watershed Association, in an email.

On Wednesday afternoon, a woman, who refused to say her name, was walking two dogs in the middle of the Charles River in Millennium Park near the canoe launch, where the water was only ankle deep.

“I don’t think I’ve seen that low,” he said. “I’ve never been able to cross it.”

He said parts of the river looked like a grassy plain.

“It’s wild,” he said. But “not too shocking, with the time we have had”.

Water levels at certain points of the Charles River at Millennium Park.

Erin Clark / The Globe Staff


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @ emilysweeney22. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.

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