Foundation damage in the Back Bay and other Boston neighborhoods has been a documented problem since the mid-1930s; today it is still a cause for concern. Wood pile foundations of the Back Bay’s 19th Century buildings were designed to be protected by continuous submersion in groundwater. Lowered groundwater levels can cause foundation deterioration and eventual failure when wood piles are exposed to air and subsequent decomposition. For a more detailed discussion, read What You Need to Know About Groundwater.
In order to preserve integrity of our historic neighborhood, it is one of NABB’s highest priorities to maintain appropriate groundwater levels. The Groundwater Committee is responsible to advocate for preventive measures and identification of known causes of depletion. This coordinating effort has included lobbying public officials, providing public information, organizing forums, and publishing articles.
The Boston Groundwater Trust was established by the City of Boston in the late 1980s following discovery of major structural failures on Brimmer St., at the base of Beacon Hill. The Trust’s mission is to monitor the water table and, where it is too low to protect wood-pile foundations to make recommendations for raising those levels. After several years of inactivity and as a result of lobbying by NABB, the Trust was revived in September 1997. Since then, the Trust has built a monitoring well network throughout affected areas of the city. Construction funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the US- EPA and operating funding from the City of Boston enables the Trust to record water level readings from 800 well points about 7 times each year.
While much progress has been made and sensitivity to the issue has increased, NABB continues to work toward effective public policy and responsible management of groundwater levels. NABB encourages all Back Bay residents, and especially those with a direct interest in property concerns, to follow regular reporting from the Boston Groundwater Trust at www.bostongroundwater.org and to self-monitor the variable conditions to protect their property from damage.