WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE: In Dorchester, it comes down, and it comes up

The month’s heavy rainfall has set a lot of folks to thinking maybe there really is something to this business of climate change after all. It seems like only yesterday we were thinking, hey, the Boston winter season this year really wasn’t too hard to take. Remember back to mid-December, a heavy (and early) snowstorm has us thinking we were in for a tough, old-fashioned winter. There it was, not yet Christmas, and the December winds had brought more than several inches of the white stuff. It seemed then there would be much more to come.
And yet, looking back there really wasn’t all that much snowfall at all this season. Here it is, still three days before spring, and it looks safe to put away the snow shovels and ice melt. This winter of 2010 sure wasn’t anything like the New England winters of yore -- at least in Boston.
As for climate change, it will be remembered as the year blizzards hit the southland -- Atlanta, Memphis, Washington. Even New York’s Central Park measured a twenty-something-inch snowfall count just last month; meanwhile, for Boston, it was relatively precipitation-free. Go figure.
But when the precip did at last come, last weekend and into this week, it was rain, rain, and more rain. Saturday through Monday, the rain fell in buckets -- and on South Boston’s St. Patrick’s/ Evacuation Day parade. One city official said a measurement taken at Dorchester’s Adams Street Library on Monday morning showed rainfall of more than ten inches in less than 48 hours. Old timers remember the old calculation that says an inch of rain translates up to eight inches of snow; had it been colder, they say we’d all be digging out from seven or eight feet of snow.

But the blizzard of ‘10 never did materialize, and while those who ventured out lost their share of umbrellas to the gusty winds, the sun came out bright and warm on Tuesday, and the 50 degree seemed to herald a certain end to this wintry time.

To be sure, the wind and rain brought another set of problems, as the neighborhood struggled to cope with leaky roofs and flooded basements. Snow blowers were out, sump pumps were in, and shop-vacs that could cope with the abundant liquid were at a premium. One new homeowner we know seemed surprised Monday morning to find her basement covered in an inch or two of water. What should she do, call a plumber? she asked plaintively. No, she was told, plumbers can be helpful when it’s a matter of fixing a leaky pipe or turning off the water supply. The cellar floods came not from bad plumbing, but from water rising up from the ground.

Some wet basements were caused by leaks in the foundation or a bad seal around a bulkhead; but the source was more likely caused by the tide of ground waters coming up through cellar floors and creating messy household pools below.

It has been some many years since we have seen such heavy rains, but a story reported in these pages 27 years ago by our friend, the late Eddie Madden, came to mind: January 1987 had been another mild winter, featuring heavy rains that coincided with astronomically high tides. It was that year that we learned about a subterranean system of hidden underground streams that are all around the neighborhood. Ed Madden’s story helps explain the problems with flooded basements that became commonplace this week.

Until the Toohig playground on Gallivan Blvd was developed, he wrote, a small stream was visible, flowing through that field off Minot Street. The stream is still there, but it is now underground and in a culvert. It flows through and under the busy Adams Corner business district at Adams and Minot Streets.

Last weekend as the water level rose, the flowing underground stream increased in volume and height, and rose into the cellars of some of those businesses. On Tuesday afternoon, Gerard Adomunes, owner of Adams Corner General Store and Gerard’s Restaurant, said he was continuing to pump out water from the store’s sub-basement. “We have dealt with this many times before,” he said, “And we have the pumps always ready to move the water out. It’s called Davenport Creek.”

The stream, which turns into a hidden river, works its way underground from the corner, across the parking lot of the Rite Aid drug store, and continues on through the Toohig playground. The creek continues on underneath homes and streets in Neponset and crosses Gallivan Blvd. It emerges out of the ground on Hallet Street, and feeds into the Neponset River in the middle of Pope John Paul II Park, where a bridge over the now-visible stream connects the two parts of that park.

Ed Madden reported that Bill Roper, the owner of Roper Paints on Granite Ave, grew up at the corner of Dorchester Ave. and Gallivan Blvd, and he had a good recall of the stream’s origins.

Roper said the stream originated as a spring in the Morton Woods, now the Gallivan Blvd. apartments adjacent to Norfolk Hardware at Gallivan and Morton Street. It flows down through what is now Walsh playground, along by Valley Road, and through the corner of Dorchester Park where the emergency room of Carney Hospital is located. It follows Hutchinson St. to Gallivan Blvd, and he said it formed a pond where Huron Circle is now located.

Still flowing easterly, Davenport Creek went into a culvert under the tracks. Bill said he and his friends used to crawl into the culvert. One hundred years ago, before the neighborhood was developed, there was a pond off Carruth Street, on what is now Shenandoah St. That, of course, is just the just the other side of the MBTA tracks from the pond Bill Roper remembers.

Further research by Ed Madden supported Roper’s recollections: “Ashmont Street’s genial and ever-helpful Joe Gaffney, a mainstay at Suffolk Registry of Deeds, pointed out the 1874 map book for Dorchester,” Madden wrote. “This shows a pond where the field is now, with a stream flowing through it into the west. This book does not show either the pond that Bill Roper remembers or the skating pond.

“The same book also shows another stream, not related to the ones above, that flowed to the Neponset, through the marshes into ‘The Grove’ near the dead end of Huntoon St and crossed Adams at the intersection of Butler St. It turned and paralleled Adams and Richmond, reaching most of the way to Dorchester Ave.

“At the same time another body of water (its straight lines indicate man had played a role in its formation) flowed off the river next to Neponset Avenue, flowed up to what is now Gallivan Blvd, took a westerly turn and flowed along what is now that artery almost to Hallet St.

“What we call ‘Tenean Creek,’ just off Port Norfolk was in 1874 Pine Neck Creek and enjoyed a wide flow through the present Garvey Playground with a smaller flow west of Neponset Ave through a few properties just south of Newhall St.”