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In reading John Walker's March 27th article, Don't waste to this chance to preserve, I was struck by the appropriation of the work of 19th century naturalist William Brewster in support of an effort to violate public lands. The proposal put forward by Cambridge’s Department of Public Works and the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority [MWRA] calls for the conversion of approximately four acres of the Metropolitan District Commission's Alewife Reservation into a storm water detention and treatment facility for the City. Brewster’s enterprise was the cataloging of native species of birds, an activity he conducted in the face of their disappearance. While I share John Walker's longings for the diversity of life once found along the Alewife Brook, there can be little doubt what caused native species to diminish: Overbuilding in the Alewife area.
Try as I might, I'm hard-pressed to find a connection between the taking of four acres of land held in the public trust, and the vision of turning the clock back to the time when the area between Fresh Pond and Spy Pond was a vibrant habitat. The built environment is a fact. Plans for updating the area infrastructure must accommodate it. Any proposed infrastructure changes by the City, involving Alewife Reservation land, needs to include benefits that are more tangible than being an echo of a lost landscape. The plan needs to add as much land to the Alewife Reservation parcel as it takes away.
It is a myopic vision that fails to see how continuing to use the Alewife Brook as an outlet for overflow volumes from the Cambridge sewer system, does anything other than diminish the recreation and habitat enhancement goals for the area. Far from restoring the water quality of Alewife, the proposal abandons key sewer separation projects necessary allow the Alewife Brook to fully support recreational uses. This includes sewer separation projects along Massachusetts Avenue, where the City has already spent upwards of $2 million.
Restoring the Alewife Brook is a goal I'm proud to share with the writer. Returning additional flows from the watershed to the brook is part of that effort. What the proposal put forth by Cambridge and the MWRA fails to see, is that neighboring communities, such as Arlington were I make my home, hardly look forward to more water in the Alewife Brook. This is particularly true while the waters of the Alewife Brook continue to be laced with untreated sewage. As long as the City continues to maintain that it is unnecessary to stop dumping sewage into the Alewife Brook [closing all CSO’s] then its proposals will continue to meet with resistance in the surrounding communities. The lesson of last week’s storms is that sewage reaching homes via overland flooding is still a very real threat to the public health.
This is an exciting time for the entire Alewife watershed. As the cities and towns which share this historic body of water define their own visions for the Alewife Brook, they come to realize that relief of Cambridge's sewer system need not be the only use which the Alewife Brook can support. I look forward to the time when the MWRA and the City come to share the goal of truly restoring the Alewife Brook as well.
This opinion piece was sent to the Alewife Study Group by the author.
The text published in the Cambridge Chronicle is slightly different (for example, the Chronicle version has quotation marks around the title of John Walker's article).
The text is available, with an April 4, 2001 dateline and the title shown above, at
The John Walker article referred to below is available, with a March 27, 2001 dateline and the title "Don’t waste this chance to preserve" at
Contact the Alewife Study Group, North Cambridge Massachusetts, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org