Help us Save Natick Dam
This most beautiful spot in Natick is about to change.
Learn why, and how you can help.
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A Spectacular Jewel: Our Common Heritage

The Natick Dam and surrounding park is one of the most beautiful spots in our Town. The dam has stood for nearly a century and has become an iconic backdrop to historic South Natick.

On any warm day people flock from miles around to come to the site to recharge with the sight and sound of the Charles River flowing over our dam. Picnics are eaten, children play, and neighbors fish.  It has become an important part of our heritage, and now it may be removed forever.

Why the Change?

Recently the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety (ODS) determined that our Natick Dam complex is no longer in compliance.

Our dam is actually two parts. The first is a concrete spillway (which most of us of think of as "the dam”), the second is an earthen dam that connects to this spillway. The Office of Dam Safety has asked the Town of Natick to remove the trees growing on the earthen dam, as these can weaken the dam structure and could contribute to a dam failure in the event of high winds and flooding. Removing these trees and some repair work to earthen dam would bring the dam complex back into compliance. The concrete spillway is in good condition.

In the course of planning for tree removal, a second option was suggested, and that was to remove the concrete spillway entirely.

These two options 1) Dam Repair and 2) Dam Removal are now the subject of study and consideration by  Charles River Dam Advisory Committee. This Committee will make their recommendation to the Town of Natick Select Board by August 2022. The Select Board will then determine how to proceed.

Why remove the Dam?

The idea for dam removal is primarily driven by trees. People who are part of the process objected to tree removal required by ODS for dam compliance. The number of trees to be removed on the earthen dam is still unclear and subject to debate, as ODS has not defined where the earthen dam ends, and where river bank begins. A proposal submitted by engineers for repair contemplates the clear cutting of all trees on an adjacent park, even though this has not been required by ODS.
 
Presentations to the Committee by various environmental and river groups, state there will be a modest improvement of water quality. Also, fish will more easily travel from one side of the dam to the other. It is important to note there remain a dozen dams between our dam and the sea.

The Natick Nipmuc Tribal Council also advocates for removal.

After Dam Removal

What the river may look like is also the subject of much debate. What we do know, is there will no longer be the sound of the water running over the spillway, nor the mist that forms as a result, nor a large beautiful pond.

All of that will be gone.

The result will most probably look like the Charles River immediately beneath the dam. Shallow and rocky. The Charles River is not a large river. The water does not flow fast and it is not deep. During the summer the water level lowers and it often becomes a muddy creek.

Recent Hydraulic studies has shown Dam removal will result in a drop above the dam of 3-5ft. The river width will reduce substantially. A quarter mile section above the dam will drop to 0.5-1ft, the lowest level in the vicinity up or down stream. For many months of the year, it will be lower than this, and river travel with a canoe or kayak will difficult or impossible.  

If dam removal is chosen, the Town of Natick may make park improvements. A conceptual plan has been commissioned as shown below. This plan is likely to cost millions of dollars. No funding has been allocated to such a plan, and it is possible that the Natick Town Meeting chooses not to fund such a plan, finishing the project with minimal site improvements.

This is the Charles River from the Elm Bank Bridge, 1/4 mile down stream of the dam. After Dam removal, the site will likely resemble this.
This is the conceptual plan for the site if dam removal is chosen. As noted, this may cost million of dollars, and no funding has been allocated by the Town.
Recent hydraulic studies show dam removal will result in drop of 3-5ft and a water depth of only 0.5-1ft. The shallowest spot up or down stream.

Why repair the Dam?

Because it is beautiful, and an integral part of the unique majesty of South Natick.

Not even those who advocate for dam removal deny the special character of our Natick dam and park. The sound of water flowing over the spillway has been the uniquely relaxing soundtrack of South Natick for generations, it has become our heritage. It is our responsibility to look after it for future generations.

The sound of water flowing over the spillway, and the water behind the dam is the reason South Natick is so beautiful, it’s the reason our dam and park is a destination. It is the reason people come to sit by the river and contemplate life, to picnic, to fish and to take their wedding photos.

Without a dam, our special spot on the Charles River will look just like every other spot on the Charles River, nice, but not beautiful.

The dam catchment area (upstream) creates a pond. This extends several miles upstream. This is a still water (Lentic) ecosystem. Remove the dam, and you alter the ecosystem. Lentic pond ecosystems are different then flowing water (Lotic) ecosystems, both are important ecosystems for invertebrates, fish and birds.  Unfortunately, no animal study has yet been done of the areas above or below the spillway. These areas may be significantly impacted by the removal of the spillway.

The Dam may help water oxygen levels. In general, dams do not contribute to water oxygen levels. Our dam is not an average dam. Our dam is a "run of the river dam”. Water flows over the top (many of us think of it as a waterfall). Our dam is also quite wide for the volume of water that flows over the top. This waterfall action is aeration, and as a result, may lead to higher water oxygen levels than if the dam were removed.  Unfortunately, no study has yet been made to determine actual water oxygen levels upstream or down stream of our dam, nor the actual effect of removing our dam.  

The Dam is a historic Structure There has been a dam in South Natick for many centuries. The current dam is almost 100 years old. The dam is a listed feature in the John Eliot Historic District on the National Historic Registry.

We will not know what we have.. until it is gone.

Our beautiful dam as it is today. Dam repair would result in the same spillway. The same sound of water, and the same lake behind the dam.
This is the conceptual plan for the site if dam repair is chosen. All trees are removed from the earthen dam. As noted, this may cost million of dollars, and no funding has been allocated by the Town other than for tree removal.

How can you help save the Dam

Please become part of the Public Process!  Both options are now being contemplated by the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee.

The Committee, and the Selectboard who they will report to, will no doubt take into consideration public opinion! If you would like to help us save the dam, you can do three things:

  • Sign our online petition. We will present this to the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee and the Selectmen when they receive the Committee's recommendation
  • Email the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee at mosthues@cbi.org, they want to know what you think
  • Attend the remaining online meetings of the Charles River Advisory Committee, and at the end of the session, participate in your 2 minutes of Public Speak. Let them know how you feel!
    The next meeting will be Monday July 19th @ 4:00-7:00pm. The agenda and login details are posted on the Town's website here.
  • Join our mailing list. Email us at SaveNatickDam@Gmail.com. We will keep you up to date!

Latest

on July 26th, the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee met to vote a recommendation for the South Natick / Charles River Dam. The Committee voted 13 for removal and 2 for repair.

For those of us who wished to see the dam remain, this was a disappointing though not unexpected vote. The Committee is in the process of preparing a written report for the Select Board which will completed in September.

The report will include a dissenting opinion from those who voted for repair. Once a final recommendation is voted by the Select Board, funding will then be sought through a warrant article at Town Meeting.

Help us save our Dam
Sign our petition and let the Charles River Dam Advisory Committee, and the Natick Select Board know you want repair and not removal!
Sign now!