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Report Card for Mystic River: "C-" with Notable Improvement

Release Date: 05/02/2009
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – May 2, 2009) – At events today in Chelsea and Woburn, Mass., EPA announced the third 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, EPA is pleased to report that the Mystic River Watershed received a grade of "C-" for the calendar year of 2008.

EPA New England’s acting deputy regional administrator, Stephen Perkins, joined community members and environmental advocates at Mill Creek in Chelsea, and at Horn Pond Conservation Area in Woburn, to announce the grade, and celebrate the communities’ annual spring clean up and Earth Day events, as community members pitched in to help with river cleanup projects.

“This years Mystic River Report Card grade is a testament to the success of the strong partnerships forged between local citizens all the way up through federal government. A “C-“is a substantial improvement from years past, but there is still much work to be done,” said Stephen Perkins, acting deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “By pulling together, we hope to make the Mystic River Watershed one of the most beautiful, most usable and most valued watersheds in the country.”

While each of the past two years EPA has announced a grade of “D” for the watershed, it is with cautious optimism that this year EPA announces a grade of a “C-“for the watershed. The grade for the Mystic River Watershed indicates that over the past year, water quality met swimming standards 59 percent of the time and boating standards 90 percent of the time. The grade is based on bacterial contamination.

"The Mystic River Watershed is not only a tremendous industrial and commercial center for our state, but also a critical environmental resource. This river system supports a broad range of uses, from drinking water sources to extensive recreational uses," said Lucy Edmondson, MassDEP's Deputy Commissioner for Policy and Planning. "MassDEP remains committed to working with EPA, local communities, watershed organizations, and the public to achieve improvements in water quality and to protect these vital resources."

Since 2005, EPA and MassDEP have launched an aggressive campaign to identify and remove numerous suspected sources of pollution to the watershed. In just 2008 alone, EPA collected and analyzed over 600 samples at greater than 90 locations within the watershed. This sampling was in addition to sampling conducted by the Mystic River Watershed Association, and MassDEP. The effort has a goal of improving water quality on the Mystic River and its tributary streams, which means restoring the watershed to both fishable and swimmable conditions based on measurable water quality standards.

“Over the last decade, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has completed a number of projects to control combined sewer overflows within the Mystic River Watershed," said MWRA executive director Frederick A. Laskey. "We are currently working on two projects in East Boston to increase sewer capacity in wet weather and further minimize combined sewer overflows to Chelsea Creek."

"Progress is always good news and shows that our combined efforts are making a difference,” said Chelsea Town Manager, Jay Ash. “While I'm happy to celebrate the work that has gotten us here, I'm equally anxious to further that work so that the progress cited on today's report does not represent our final grade on this very important subject."

“The City of Woburn looks forward to continuing to work in collaboration with the EPA, the MWRA, the Mystic River Watershed Association and all the communities along the upper and lower Mystic River Watershed to improve the quality of our rivers and waterways,” said Thomas L. McLaughlin, Mayor of the City of Woburn.

While the grade and sampling efforts have been focused on bacterial water quality, there are significant benefits to fixing the sources of these problems. Eliminating sewage removes a significant amount of nutrients to the watershed such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Identifying and removing illicit sources of sewage to the watershed translates into significant long term improvement in the overall health of the watershed.

“Earth Day is such an exciting community event in Chelsea. This year Earth Day is even more special with the presence of the EPA using Mill Creek as the back drop for the Mystic River Watershed Report Card event,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative. “Chelsea residents work diligently each and every day to improve our environment, specifically our waterfront. We relish the work we accomplish with partners in East Boston and Everett and throughout the watershed. Though there is much work to be done, today we can be proud of what we have already achieved.”

“The Mystic River Watershed encompasses more than seventy six (76) square miles, 22 towns and cities and the lives and well being of more than 500,000 residents. Working with Chelsea Greenspace, the Woburn Residential Environmental Network, with the professional staff at US EPA New England and many, many other environmental advocacy groups we are determined to achieve a restoration of environmental conditions in the Mystic River Watershed to a healthy state,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. “The results of this year’s EPA Report Card provide encouragement that we are moving in the right direction.”

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

It is important to note that EPA's new Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has made environmental justice a clear priority. She has recently 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/region1/mysticriver/index.html)

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