Meet Mr. Groundwater, Elliott Laffer

January 18, 2011

-By Penny Cherubino

Elliott Laffer with a map of the Groundwater Conservation Overlay District behind him.

In Boston, when you hear “groundwater,” you think of Elliott Laffer. In 2004, he becameExecutive Director of the Boston Groundwater Trust (BGT). Since then, he’s been the point person fighting to protect Boston buildings from the damage caused by low ground water levels.
In landfill areas, wooden pilings were driven through the fill to sit on the solid clay below.

Building foundations were supported by these piles. Immersion in groundwater was expected to protect the piles from rotting. But, with the growth of underground infrastructure, ground water began leaking away and property owners were faced with expensive repairs to replace rotting piles.

Background for the Job
Laffer has lived in the Back Bay for more than 35 years, and has always been involved in his community. In announcing his appointment, the Trust said, “He has served as both chairman and president of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, vice chairman of the PruPAC, member of the Civic Advisory Committee for the construction of 500 Boylston Street, and as citizen member of the steering committee for the Copley Place civic review process.”
He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rensselaer and spent 30 years in technical sales of products like air pollution and dust control equipment.
Laffer is the perfect fit for the job.

He has the technical background to understand groundwater issues, and the sales background to communicate with both a general audience and with architects and engineers. Plus, he understands the neighborhoods and the politics of the city of Boston.

Progress Is A Team Effort
When Laffer talks about accomplishments, he’s quick to say it takes a team effort. He’s proud that the issue of groundwater has gone from “… something that people want to avoid talking about to something they agree they have to deal with.”
“That led to institutional change. It led to the city instituting zoning in terms of the Groundwater Conservation Overlay District (GCOD),” Laffer said.

`That district extends from the Fenway through the South End, Back Bay, and Chinatown, skipping over the original peninsula to include the Bulfinch Triangle, the wharf areas along Commercial Street in the North End, and the Fort Point Channel area.
Laffer also commended, “…a terrific City-State Groundwater Working Group.” This group holds quarterly public meetings where they share information about issues causing a loss of groundwater. “They commit to fixing things that could be the problem and have spent serious money doing it.”

New Groundwater Study
At the January 27th BGT meeting, the results of a Tufts University Study will, “quantify improvements on groundwater levels in Boston resulting from rainwater recharge systems instituted by the City.”

Tips for Home Buyers
Laffer offered the following advice:

1.  Check the information at to educate yourself about groundwater issues, find the groundwater monitoring wells around the property, and learn the history of groundwater levels for that area.

2. Look up a history of the building’s repairs. The “Bldg. Data” tab on the Trust website will link you to the resource for this search.

3. Ask realtors, management companies, and condominium boards if there have been any  groundwater related issues. They are obliged to answer the question if you ask.

4. Hire a building inspector who has some idea how to spot groundwater problems.

5. If you are thinking of buying a whole building, you can have a test pit dug to check the status of the pilings.

Laffer is always happy to help anyone with groundwater concerns. Call 617-859-8439 anytime you have questions or need guidance. He urges everyone to make use of the wealth of information stored at the organization’s website. (

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