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Mystic River Water Quality Receives a “D” - Ongoing efforts, analysis highlight problem areas

Release Date: 05/20/2012
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – May 20, 2012) – At the Mystic River Watershed Association’s 16th annual Mystic River Herring Run and Paddle, EPA and the Mystic River Watershed Association announced the sixth public reporting on the condition of the Mystic River since kicking off a collaborative effort addressing water quality issues in the urban river in 2006.

This year, the Mystic River Watershed received a grade of “D” for the calendar year 2011, a slight improvement from the 2010 grade. The grade is based on bacterial contamination and was based on monitoring data over the past year showing that water quality met swimming standards only 46 percent of the time, while boating standards were met 87 percent of the time.

EPA New England joined community members and environmental advocates at the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in Somerville, Mass. to announce the grade and celebrate the return of the herring to the Mystic.

“Although our grade is not where we would like it to be, we are continuing  to focus on problem areas and apply all our available tools to improving water quality in the Mystic River,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.  “We need to redouble our efforts and stay the course over the next several years to ensure the water quality in the Mystic River Watershed improves.”

While a slight improvement was seen during 2008 and 2009 when the watershed earned a grade of “C-“, water quality in the river has generally been a “D”, and was no different during the 2011 calendar year. 

The past year saw continued efforts to improve water quality conditions in the watershed. Both EPA and MassDEP continue to pursue a number of active enforcement actions targeted at improving water quality in the Mystic River Watershed. These enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of a number of illicit discharges of sewage to storm drains throughout the watershed.  Enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of over 14,000 gallons per day of sewage from storm drains in the Mystic River Watershed, with numerous additional illicit connections that have been identified and are scheduled to be removed this year. A number of additional repairs have been made that have prevented tens of thousands of gallons of sewage from discharging to the river during rain events.  These aggressive efforts continue to address violations of water quality with regard to bacteria.

“This year’s grade shows that persistent impairment of water quality caused by ancient sewer and stormwater systems continues to bedevil the Mystic River Watershed,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. “These water quality problems will be severely compounded by the increased flooding and larger numbers of severe storm cycles that are anticipated to occur as a result of New England’s changing climate. Fortunately the solutions to the problems we face are well understood and implementation of these solutions will produce honest work and good jobs for local residents. The Mystic River Watershed Association, through its Monitoring Network, is working to develop a clear understanding of the watershed’s current physical and environmental conditions.  This understanding will insure that precious financial and human resources engaged to restore our area infrastructure and the local natural environment will be deployed effectively.”

Long-term efforts to improve this watershed will be achieved through a collaborative effort amongst all stakeholders.  Last year, the Mystic River Watershed Initiative Steering Committee signed onto a mission and set of priorities that will guide its actions for the next year.  The focus is on water quality as well as open space and public access.  The Water Quality group intends to focus on reducing and eliminating sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) in the watershed, providing stormwater technical assistance to municipalities, reducing nutrient inputs to the watershed, and better understanding and remediating legacy pollution in the Malden River area.

When assessing water quality to assign a grade to the Mystic River Watershed, EPA uses similar criteria as for the Charles River Initiative, as follows:

A – meet swimming and boating standards nearly all of the time
B -- meet swimming and boating standards most of the time
C -- meet swimming standards some of the time, and boating standards most of the time
D -- meet swimming and boating standards some of the time
F -- fail swimming and boating standards most of the time

EPA's Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has made environmental justice and the restoration of urban waters clear priorities. She has stated that environmental justice “is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins. It has to be part of our thinking in every decision we make.” Environmental justice is an important consideration in EPA New England’s urban rivers strategy and is a clear objective of the Mystic River Watershed Steering Committee.

More Information: EPA’s Mystic River Web site (www.epa.gov/mysticriver)

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