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Developing wetlands regulations

The Wetlands Protection Ordinance gives the City greater authority to protect its wetlands. Our wetlands are crucial to controlling flooding and protecting Boston's neighborhoods and green spaces. Developing regulations is the first step that will help Boston preserve its natural areas for years to come.

Wetlands perform many ecological services, such as:

  • storing floodwater
  • filtering stormwater run-off
  • producing oxygen, and
  • reducing the "urban heat island" effect.

They are natural resources for all Bostonians. The creation of regulations will ensure these resources are protected from both development and climate change. Due to their complexity, the development of regulations has been separated into phases.

Phase III: Climate resilience and environmental justice

Phase III is just getting started. It will address the climate resiliency, climate equity, and environmental justice components of the Ordinance. An integral part of the process is the creation of a Community Advisory Board (CAB). CAB members will be key partners in shaping an inclusive City-led process. We are committed to engaging with the feedback provided by the CAB members and other key stakeholders in drafting these regulations and guidelines!

Focus areas for Phase III

Climate risks are not new for Boston, but they will continue to increase as the global climate changes. These risks include an increase in:

  • precipitation
  • sea-level rise
  • coastal storm events, and
  • extreme heat.

A dollar spent preparing the City for climate change today will save about six dollars in the future. The City of Boston is acting to ensure Boston evolves and thrives in the coming decades despite the threat of climate change.

The City is working to protect its residents and infrastructure from future coastal flooding. We plan to establish a Coastal Flood Resilience Zone (CFRZ). This will help identify and protect areas of the City that will become (or already may be part of) the 100-year floodplain.

While Boston is a coastal city, several of its neighborhoods experience inland flooding. Inland flooding is primarily caused by rain or extreme weather events. These include nor’easters and hurricanes. We plan to establish an Inland Flood Resilience Zone (IFRZ). This will help identify and protect areas of the City that will become (or already may be) subject to inland flooding.

Under the ordinance, the Riverfront Area extends 25 feet from the edge of any river, stream, brook, or creek. The Riverfront Area provides many benefits, including:

  • flood control
  • storm damage prevention, and
  • wildlife habitat.

We plan to establish the Extended Riverfront Area. This will enable the Commission to increase the Riverfront Area by up to 200 feet in areas where broader protection is especially important.

Climate change is already impacting the City’s most vulnerable populations more than others. The Ordinance allows the Commission to develop:

  • climate equity and environmental justice regulations
  • performance standards, and
  • guidelines, as appropriate.

This will grant the Commission the ability to lawfully enforce the protection of these communities. Engagement with residents of neighborhoods who bear a greater environmental burden than others will shape the regulations.

Community Advisory Board

About the Board

The City has assembled a Community Advisory Board (CAB) to help guide the process of developing the third phase of regulations. CAB representatives are key partners. They will help shape an inclusive regulations development and community engagement process. In collaboration with the CAB, we hope to develop regulations that represent community values and objectives. 

Some goals and responsibilities of the CAB include, but are not limited to: 

  • providing insight into the social, economic, and cultural impacts of climate change on Boston’s environmental justice populations
  • identifying prior and ongoing work and community feedback that may inform this new project
  • sharing existing resources and maintaining transparency about the process with the broader community
  • helping to determine opportunities for community engagement, collect community feedback, and identify barriers to obtaining feedback, and
  • informing and refining the climate resilience and environmental justice regulations and guidelines. We want to ensure that they reflect and address community priorities.
CAB Members:
  • Kristine Acevedo, Dorchester
  • Nashira Baril, Mattapan
  • Cindy Baxter, East Boston
  • Ruth Georges, Mattapan
  • Vanessa Farny, West Roxbury
  • Heidi Fisher, North End
  • Chris Lang, Roslindale
  • James Long, Brighton
  • Val Mayo, Hyde Park

Phase I: Procedural regulations

The Commission adopted procedural and administrative regulations in August 2020. They outline the process for submitting an application and receiving a permit.

Read the Regulations

Phase II: Performance standards

Phase II of the regulations focused on wetland resources that are either:

  • not protected under state law, or
  • do not have any standards for projects to follow.

The goal was to create a set of performance standards that projects must follow to protect and preserve these resources. 

Phase II created a set of regulations for:
  • isolated vegetated wetlands, which are wetlands that are not next to open water
  • vernal pools and vernal pool habitat, which are small depressions that seasonally fill with water, and 
  • land subject to coastal storm flowage, which is the same as the 100-year floodplain.

The Commission adopted the Phase II regulations in February 2022. Community engagement and feedback from stakeholders were critical in developing these regulations. You can review the process and all of the materials considered by the Commission below. 

the phase ii process:
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