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Black Eyed Susans

Conservation Commission

Public Works

The MassDEP has released a COVID-19 Wetlands FAQ for Conservation Commissions and Applicants. 

About the Conservation Commission

The Conservation Commission administers the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (310 CMR 10.0), reviewing, permitting and inspecting projects in or adjacent to Cambridge’s wetlands, floodplains and water bodies. The Commission also plays an important role in implementing the Massachusetts Stormwater Management Policy and Standards. The seven members of the Conservation Commission are appointed by the City Manager to three-year terms and are served by one permanent staff person, the Commission Director. 

The Commission Director assists with the interdepartmental review of Environmental Impact Reports and state and federal environmental documents and permit applications for projects that may impact Cambridge or its water supply. The Commission Director regularly provides technical assistance to City departments on natural resources and environmental planning issues, and works with regional, state and federal agencies and community groups to address issues of both short and long-term environmental concern.


In addition to administering the Conservation Commission, the Director is a member of the Fresh Pond Advisory Board, the Open Space Committee, the ABC Stormwater Flooding Board, the Mystic River Watershed Municipal Sub-Committee, the Food and Fitness Policy Council and coordinates both the Open Space Community Preservation Act funds and the Community Gardens Program.

A Conservation Commission member serves as a member of the Fresh Pond Advisory Board and Community Preservation Act Committee. For detailed information regarding the Conservation Commission members, please visit the Boards and Commissions Directory. To view meeting minutes and upcoming meeting dates, click here

Additional Information

2024 Conservation Commission Meeting Schedule:

Information regarding 2024 meeting dates and submittal deadlines can be found here

Community Gardens:

Information regarding the 14 community gardens around the City can be found here

What are floodplains?

Floodplains are any areas of land susceptible to inundation by floodwaters from any source. A 100-year floodplain differs in that it is an area adjoining a river, stream, or other waterway that is covered by water in the event of a 100-year flood. A 100-year flood is a flood having a one- percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in magnitude in any given year. The 100-year floodplain is considered a Wetland Resource Area under the Wetlands Protection Act.

Minimal 100-year floodplain still exists along the Charles River in Cambridge. However, the Alewife district, located in Cambridge, Arlington, and Belmont, consists of several hundred acres of sensitive ecological marshlands located entirely within the 100-year floodplain of the Alewife Brook.

For more information on floodplains, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) homepage by clicking here.

What are wetlands?

Wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface (Cowardin, December 1979). Wetlands vary widely because of regional and local differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors, including human disturbance. Indeed, wetlands are found from the tundra to the tropics and on every continent except Antarctica.

For regulatory purposes under the Clean Water Act, the term wetlands means "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas."

[taken from the EPA Regulations listed at 40 CFR 230.3(t)]

For more information on Wetlands, click here to view the EPA office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds web page.

How do I find out if there are wetlands on my property?

You must either conduct a field investigation or call the Conservation Commission to make an appointment to view the maps that are on file to determine whether or not your property is on a wetland.

How do I find out if my property is in the floodplain?

You must call the Conservation Commission to make an appointment to view the F.E.M.A. Flood Insurance Rate maps to determine whether or not your property is in the floodplain.

What is protected under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act?

Areas such as wetlands, ponds, streams, marshes, rivers, and floodplains, as well as larger bodies of water that may flood, are protected under the Act. Therefore, Fresh Pond, Charles River, Alewife Brook, Blair Pond, Jerry's Pond, and land surrounding these water bodies are among the areas under the jurisdiction of the Conservation Commission.

For information click here to view the Wetlands Protection Act PDF

When do I need to file for a permit from the Conservation Commission?

When any work (i.e. project, activity, construction, landscaping), is proposed within 100 ft. or less of an area under the Commission's jurisdiction, you need to file for a permit.

How do I file for a permit?

The procedure for filing a permit application varies, depending upon the location and type of activity proposed. Therefore, it is important to contact the Commission for further clarification prior to filing the application.

Wetlands Protection Act permit application forms are available from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) web site.

What is the filing fee?

The fee also varies from $0-$1000, depending upon the location or type of activity. Information on how to calculate the appropriate filing fee is also located on the DEP website.

Where should I locate my garden?

Your garden ideally should be south facing if possible.  If that is not possible, then locate it in a place that gets the maximum amount of sun and air.  A planter on wheels is a good solution for an urban gardener to be able to “chase the sun.”  In addition, you should choose a location with access to water.

Can I plant directly into the ground?

Ideal gardening soil is rich with nutrients. Most urban soils are nutrient deficient and potentially contaminated with lead. Compost can be added to soil to add nutrients. In addition, it is recommended to test your soil before planting. You can send your soil out for analysis to UMass Amherst, here.

What can I do if I do not have a backyard or my soil isn't good?

Many urban gardeners have success growing in containers.  Plants grow well in all types of containers or planters.  If you are constructing a planter, please be sure to use materials that will not introduce any contaminants.  For example, do not use pressure treated lumber to construct your planter.  Ideally, your planter should be filled with nutrient rich soil at a depth of at least 6 inches.

When should I plant my garden?

There are many factors that can help you determine when to plant.  Here is a website to help you make that decision: www.almanac.com

What should I plant?

The types of plants that you choose are completely up to you.  Some plants are happy to have their seeds directly sown into your garden and others prefer to be started indoors and transplanted.  Here is a website that can help you plan: www.gardenguides.com

Page was posted on 11/14/2019 1:52 PM
Page was last modified on 5/23/2024 9:58 AM
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