climate adaptation

Mattapoisett rallies to prepare for weather ahead

By Amy Miller

Jeri Weiss, a drinking water specialist at EPA New England, has been working with the people of Mattapoisett this year, making trips and calls to this southeastern Massachusetts town sitting on the edge of Buzzards Bay. Weiss has consulted with officials and residents about the best ways to MattapIMGTEST5_2499prepare for climate change, and she has seen what a community can do when its best minds work together.

Recently, Jeri made the trip down the coast with Regional Administrator Curt Spalding. She hoped that he too could get a look at how Mattapoisett’s officials and Boy Scouts, educators and planners and citizens have come together to help ensure Mattapoisett will weather the weather ahead.

Accompanied by Jane Downing, chief of EPA’s drinking water program, Spalding met with the fire and police chief, the town manager, the water supervisor and citizens, including Nick Nicholson, former town drinking water superintendent, all of whom were proud to present their work.

“It meant a lot to me that [Curt and others from EPA] took the time to come to our town,” said Nicholson in a follow-up note to Jeri.

A cable TV crew talks to a Boy Scout about his flood preparation project.

A cable TV crew talks to a Boy Scout about his flood preparation project.

Because its pumping station is at sea level, Mattapoisett’s wastewater and drinking water systems may be at great risk if, or when, heavy rains come or sea levels rise. The town has been able to take advantage of funding provided by EPA’s Regional Applied Research and Regional Sustainable Environmental Research programs. These funds are allowing Mattapoisett to look at its challenges and identify actions to take if an evacuation was needed.

As project manager, Jeri worked with the town to make sure the community played a part in coming up with solutions.

“This community is so unbelievably fantastic,” Jeri said. “They really took on this project and ran with it.”

One of the things a core group of townspeople did as soon as the project began was to collect stories and pictures of how the town reacted to past extreme weather conditions. Community members were happy to tell their stories and share their memories. Curt heard from them how water flowed over the Route 6 dam during Hurricane Bob in 1991, inundating a drinking water well field. And he was told about a video the town is creating in which more than a dozen people, many in their 80s and 90s, recall how hard the town was hit in the 1938 hurricane.

In another video being produced by the local cable TV station, Old Rochester Cable TV, police and fire officials warn townspeople about how important it is to be prepared and to have evacuation plans in place.

While Boy Scouts in other towns may be forging trails or building benches, Boy Scout Jared Watson in Mattapoisett is helping his community envision their world after a major flood. The visualization, an Eagle Scout project, involves putting rings on utility poles to show how high water reached in past floods.

The Cable TV station has assigned an intern to take pictures comparing different spots before and after storms. And employees at the library, a beautifully rebuilt historic building where Curt met with the community, are collecting information on flooding and preparedness and putting up displays.

EPA’s role in this is to offer Mattapoisett options for protecting their drinking and wastewater plants – perhaps a wall, or relocation, or modifications on existing infrastructure. The point is to give the town alternatives.

From Jeri’s point of view, Mattapoisett is a model for how communities can work together to prepare.

As impressive as all the planning is, she found the attitude of the town leaders most extraordinary. Town Manager Mike Gagne told her Mattapoisett’s water and wastewater assets are important, but it’s the town’s people that really impress him.

“That,” said Jeri said, “is both admirable and true.”


Amy Miller is in the Office of Public Affairs at EPA’s New England office.

For more about climate adaptations in Mattapoisett:

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Smells Like Progress: Growing Up in Cancer Alley

By Dr. Beverly Wright

My journey towards understanding environmental justice began during my early years growing up in the area known as ‘cancer alley’ in Louisiana. After I learned about the disparties of pollution problems in poorer neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, people who looked like me, I dedicated my life to overcoming these injustices. Now, as an educator, I understand my role and its importance in stimulating the minds of young people, propelling them into becoming involved in their own destiny. Exposure to, and involvement in advocacy work does just that. I am gratified to have a hand in nurturing the next generation of environmental justice advocates and professionals.

On the frontlines today, there is no greater challenge to our future, or should I say to our continued existence, than the issues surrounding climate change and global warming. Furthermore, people of color and the poor (specifically where I live, African-Americans) are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and therefore their involvement in the solution is critical. After attending several international climate summits over the years, I found the presence of African-American youth and students to be quite limited, and in recent years I have resolved to change that dynamic.


This is what has driven me to organize a collaborative with the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and to launch the 1st Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference held this year. Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice hosted the 1st Annual HBCU Climate Change Student Conference entitled Bridging the Gap Between Climate Change Theory and Experience. Over 100 students from 10 universities, as well as faculty, staff, and environmental leaders from across the country came together to discuss the devastating effects climate change is having on vulnerable communities.

Conference participants toured East Plaquemines Parish, a coastal Louisiana community that has been devastated by four hurricanes and the BP oil disaster since August of 2005. Rev. Tyronne Edwards, President of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center in Braithwaite, LA, discussed grassroots recovery efforts that his organization has been involved in since Hurricane Katrina.


One of the sessions brought together a diverse panel of presenters including nationally recognized environmental justice researchers, a hip-hop activist, community organizers, and emerging HBCU climate justice student leaders to address campus sustainability, the socio-economic impacts of climate change, community resilience and adaptation, public health, flood risk management, and mental health implications of disasters.

The three day conference also included an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, and climate change sessions for middle school students from the Dillard University Emerging Scholars – STEM Program.

I’m so proud of the conference and the transformation I saw in the young people who attended. The HBCU students, many of whom are from vulnerable communities, were challenged to become the next generation of leaders in environmental and climate justice advocacy. I wake up each day focused on affecting such transformation. It is my belief that democracy requires an educated populace, and that the survival of the Earth will require an environmentally conscious citizenry. It is our job as educators to make this a reality.

About the author: Dr. Beverly Wright is a professor of Sociology and founding director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), formerly at Xavier University, now at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. The DSCEJ is one of the few community/university partnerships that addresses environmental and health inequities in the Lower Mississippi River Industrial Corridor, known as Cancer Alley. For over fifteen years, she has been a leading scholar, advocate and activist in the environmental justice arena. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.