The Natick Dam and Waterfall and Pond and surrounding park make up 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. It is a symbol of our town.
On any warm day people travel from miles around to the site, to recharge with the scenery and sound of the Charles River flowing over our Spillway/Waterfall. Picnics are enjoyed, children play, people admire, and neighbors fish. It has become an important part of our heritage, and now it could be removed for all time.
Recently the Massachusetts Office of Dam Safety determined that our Natick Dam complex is no longer in compliance.
Our dam is actually two parts. One is an earthen dam, holding back most of the water in the beautiful pond. The other is a concrete Spillway, a Waterfall (which many of think of as “the Dam”). 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. The town acknowledges that they never should have been planted in the first place. Removing these trees along with some repair work on the earthen dam and minor work on the Spillway would bring the dam complex back into compliance. The picturesque concrete “Waterfall” near the Library 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 – repair of the dam or removal of the Waterfall -- were the subject of consideration by a Charles River Dam Advisory Committee.
What the river might look like is also uncertain. 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 Charles River is 80 miles long. The result if the Waterfall is removed is most likely that it will look like almost all of the rest of the river, like the Charles River immediately beneath the dam, rather than being a special place. It will be narrow, shallower, muddier, and maybe 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 have shown 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 to 1 foot, the lowest level in the vicinity up or down stream. For many months of the year, it will be lower than this, and river activity with a canoe or kayak will difficult or impossible.
If Waterfall removal occurs, the Town of Natick may make park improvements – but those could and should be made anyway. In any case, 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.
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.
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 Waterfall and park. The sound of water flowing over the spillway has been the uniquely relaxing soundtrack of South Natick for generations. It is our heritage, even having provided clean-energy power for a score of companies over hundreds of years since the first dam in the 1700s. An adjacent company continues to have riparian rights to power the Dam It is our responsibility to look after this remarkable structure for future generations.
The sound of water flowing over the spillway and the water behind the dam are major reasons for the beauty of South Natick. They are the reason this peaceful spot is a destination. It is the reason people come to sit by the river and contemplate, to picnic, to fish and to take their wedding photos as so many have.
The dam catchment area upstream creates a lovely pond. This extends several miles. This is a still-water ecosystem. Remove the dam, and you alter the ecosystem. “Lentic” pond ecosystems are different than “Lotic” ecosystems, where water flows faster. Both are important ecosystems for invertebrates, fish and birds. The dam may actually increase water oxygen levels. The Natick Dam and Waterfall are a "run of the river dam”. Water flows over the top of the Spillway, which is quite wide for the volume of water that passes. This Waterfall action creates aeration that leads to higher water oxygen levels than if the dam were removed. The Natick Dam and Waterfall represent 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 should understand and appreciate what we have, perhaps taken for granted. We would miss it dearly when it’s 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.
The Committee recommended the Waterfall be removed, and the Select Board voted, 4-1, to accept that recommendation. But it is not too late to save the Waterfall if enough people care about it and speak out. A lot of research still must be done and many questions answered – including those relating to cost – before plans can be made and permits issued to remove the Waterfall. The Select Board will listen to the people they represent.