Asee peer logo

The Problem Of Groundwater And Wood Piles In Boston, An Unending Need For Vigilant Surveillance

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Undergraduate Research

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1254.1 - 13.1254.30



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

James Lambrechts Wentworth Institute of Technology

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

The Problem of Groundwater and Wood Piles in Boston “An Unending Need for Vigilant Surveillance”


The stately rowhouse buildings in many areas of Boston were founded on wood piles in the 1800s. Preservation of wood pile foundations requires that groundwater levels remain high enough to inundate the tops of wood pile foundations. This has become a major problem in some areas of the Back Bay, the South End and Fenway neighborhoods of Boston. Costs for wood pile repair in the last 25 years totals more than $20 million. Old infrastructure and impervious surfaces are primary sources that have been identified as leading to lowering of groundwater. City government has established the Boston Groundwater Trust to measure and report groundwater levels, which now uses a network of 800 observation wells. However, the elevation of wood pile tops is not reliably known. Research is underway to investigate possible use of remote sensing methods. Recharging is also being required at new developments and major renovations, but more recharging needs to be done by individual property owners as well. A program to aggressively search for the causes of lowered groundwater and make necessary repairs to infrastructure and building basements is underway. Much of the ‘leg-work’ has been done by co-op students from the Wentworth civil engineering technology program, who have searched for observation wells, monitored observation well installations, measured water levels in wells eight times a year, investigated recharge systems to replenish groundwater, made numerous grain size tests on fill samples and most recently designed an alternative and far less expensive ‘foundation replacement’ system. The groundwater and wood pile problems are unique in their extent throughout Boston’s filled land areas, which leaves us with a never-ending need for vigilant surveillance in the struggle to preserve these vital foundations for thousands of rowhouse buildings.


In Boston, there are many thousands of rowhouse residences that are founded on wood piles. The information presented herein provides an overview of the problems of groundwater and wood piles and the struggle to preserve these vital foundations for many thousands of buildings in the filled land areas of Boston. Several issues related to the preservation of wood pile foundations are discussed with particular reference to the work of a number of students from Wentworth Institute of Technology over the past decade both on their co-op work semesters, as senior design projects, and as special topics study. Their efforts have included observation well readings, research for wood pile top elevations, details on fill soil composition and location, study into restoration and preservation of groundwater levels to heights above pile tops sufficient to maintain the structural integrity of the piles, and design of alternative means of building support. In such context, background on the geologic origins of the ground beneath the Filled Land areas is reviewed, as are the “much more recent” events that have impacted groundwater and wood pile integrity.

Regarding groundwater levels, the continuing program to measure groundwater levels in 840 observations wells and uses of the data are discussed. Two different efforts are required for

Lambrechts, J. (2008, June), The Problem Of Groundwater And Wood Piles In Boston, An Unending Need For Vigilant Surveillance Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4123

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015