Charles River No Longer Known for Dirty Water

EPA has given a grade of “A-” for water quality in the Charles River during 2013. It is the highest grade EPA has issued since the 1995 inception of the Clean Charles River Initiative. Reflecting nearly twenty years of focused efforts by EPA, state and local officials, private environmental advocacy groups and concerned citizens, this is the first time the Charles River earned a grade higher than “B+”. As with past years, the grade is based on bacterial sampling conducted by the Charles River Watershed Association during the previous year.

The latest grade reflects continued improvement in the number of days the river is safe for boating and swimming. For the 2013 calendar year, the river was safe for boating 96 percent of the time and safe for swimming 70 percent of the time, representing the highest safe swimming percentage in the past 19 years since the Charles grade was first issued. This is a notable improvement over the past several years and adramatic boost from 1995 when the River met boating standards only 39 percent of the time and was safe for swimming just 19 percent of the time. During recent years, groups such as the Charles River Conservancy and the Charles River Swimming Club have been hosting public swim events along the Charles River, a testament to the river’s improving conditions.

“Here’s what a clean Charles River means: it’s as simple as seeing how many people get out and enjoy swimming, kayaking, sailing and windsurfing on a nice summer day, and not having to worry about whether the water might make them sick,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “We are extremely proud and gratified that our years of hard work to clean up the Charles
River is showing positive results. This accomplishment would not have been possible without long-term and consistent efforts by our committed partners, working together to eliminate the dumping of sewage to tributary streams and stormwater outfalls discharging into the Charles River.”

“The cleanup of the Charles River has been a tremendous success story that speaks to the power of good policy and collaboration,” said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I’d like to applaud and thank all those involved in this effort, including the EPA, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, Boston Water andSewer Commission, and in particular, the local volunteers who have made this possible. You continue to raise the bar for urban rivers across the U.S. and world.”

“This positive grade for the Charles River reflects the significant investments Massachusetts has made to improve water quality across the state,” said Sen. Marc R. Pacheco (D-Taunton), Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “It is exciting to see that by prioritizing this important resource, the Charles River, like many of our waterways, has become cleaner
and more accessible, benefiting both the environment and our public health.”

“These water quality results for the Charles River, and EPA’s grade for this year, are heartening indicators of improvements in this iconic riverway. As an urban river that receives stormwater and combined sewage overflows during wet weather, the Charles is today an example of how improvements can be achieved with effective partnerships,” said David W. Cash, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department ofEnvironmental Protection. “Our work with governmental entities at all levels, advocacy organizations, as well as source reduction work by public and private entities, has contributed to this year’s final grade. The Commonwealth is proud of our progress toward meeting the challenge of improving urbanwater quality, and will continue to work for even better results.”

“Across the country, the Charles serves as a model for the restoration of urban rivers”, said Bob Zimmerman, CRWA Executive Director. “We are thrilled to celebrate this remarkable achievement, while remembering the Charles still faces serious issues such as toxic algal blooms and the impacts of climate change. However, if the success of this effort over the past 20 years is any indication, together we’llresolve them as well.”

EPA has also begun a partnership with the Boston Museum of Science. EPA has deployed a buoy in the Charles River outside of the Museum to monitor water quality. The data will be displayed at the Museum of Science’s innovative Charles River exhibit that is under development. EPA is working to provide current Charles River water quality information publicly on the Web for the 2015 boating and swimming season.

“In an age where we humans have considerable impact on the environment around us, it’s critical for allof us to be able to understand data and use it to inform our decisions and stimulate questions,” said David G. Rabkink, PhD, Museum of Science Farinon Director for Current Science and Technology. “Our collaboration with the EPA to provide our visitors with real data about the Charles River will help make real
– and relevant – the lessons about critical thinking we aim to teach in our soon-to-be-opened Charles River Gallery.”

In addition, EPA’s Curt Spalding credited the work of the Metropolitan Water Resources Authority (MWRA) under a Federal Court-ordered Long Term Control Plan. “The MWRA funded a $26.7 million effort that Brookline completed last year, separating part of that Town’s storm drain system from its sewer system. The Boston Water and Sewer Commission completed a similar project, also funded by MWRA,
over the last several years in the Bullfinch Triangle, an area running from North Station to Government Center. These public investments are paying long term dividends.”

“MWRA has spent over $5 billion on projects that have greatly improved the water quality of Boston Harbor and other area resources, including the Charles River,” said Fred Laskey, MWRA’s Executive Director. It is gratifying to see the environmental, public health, and economic benefits resulting from the investment of our ratepayers’ funds. In one generation, we have taken our urban rivers and harbor from
among the dirtiest to among the cleanest, relegating The Standells’ “Dirty Water” to sentiment and history.”

These investments in the Charles River basin reduce the volume of water discharged from the Cottage Farm combined sewer overflow (“CSO”) treatment facility. More information: EPA’s Clean Charles River Initiative (

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