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EPA Announces New Initiatives Aimed at Restoring the Charles River

Release Date: 10/18/2001
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - As 5,000 rowers head to Boston this weekend to compete in the annual Head of the Charles regatta, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced two new initiatives that will help make the Charles River safe for swimming and fishing by Earth Day 2005, a goal set six years ago by EPA's New England Office.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and EPA today announced a joint contest for students and professionals to design plans for reducing stormwater pollution running into the Charles River. The MIT/EPA Charles River Stormwater Design Competition challenges contestants to develop innovative measures for treating and controlling stormwater, which comes from a variety of sources, including homes, businesses and parking lots.

A grand prize of $5,000 will be awarded, plus two prizes of $1,500 each to the best student entry and the best professional entry. MIT will pay up to $10,000 to put the winning idea into practice. Proposals are due by Jan. 18, 2002 and more information can be found at http://yerkes.mit.edu/stormwater/ Click icon for EPA disclaimer.

In addition, EPA today announced $180,000 of funding to pay for a project, called CharlesCast, that will forecast pollution conditions on the river and educate the public about those conditions. The project is part of EPA's EMPACT program, which focuses on educating the public by providing ‘real time' water quality data that is immediately publicized on web sites and other venues.

"These two announcements provide important momentum in making the Charles River safe for fishing and swimming," said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "These efforts will help educate the public about the river's water quality and generate ideas to curb stormwater pollution that comes from such a wide spectrum of sources throughout the watershed."

"MIT is pleased to once again partner with EPA on this shared goal of cleaning up this vital recreational resource," added Paul Parravano, director of government relations at MIT. "Many homeowners and small businesses throughout the watershed are eager to help make the Charles safe for swimming and fishing by 2005, but don't know how to do so. This contest offers an opportunity for both students and experts to identify practical, easy-to-implement ideas that can improve the water quality of the Charles River."

The stormwater design contest was developed as a way to educate the public on stormwater issues and to find easily replicated models for reducing such pollution in residential areas of the Charles River watershed.

Contest organizers are soliciting proposals aimed at addressing both the quantity and quality of stormwater runoff coming from any of the following sources: rooftop runoff (e.g., ‘green' roofs, rain barrels, groundwater recharge); lot drainage (e.g., minimize exposure to pollutants, retention, treatment, groundwater recharge); landscaping (e.g., reduce the need for pesticides, fertilizers, retention, treatment); and ideas for changing public behavior.

Judges for the contest include: the EPA's Varney; Robert Durand, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs; John DeVillars, MIT lecturer and former EPA New England regional administrator; Robert Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association; Thomas Schueler, executive director of the Center for Watershed Protection; and Owen O'Riordan of the Cambridge Department of Public Works.

The CharlesCast project will have three basic components. The project will support the Charles River Watershed Association's ongoing bacteria monitoring of the river during the boating season. For several years, CRWA has collected bacteria samples and, based on those results, hoisted flags at boathouses indicating with blue flags when standards are being met and with red flags when they are not being met.

The $180,000 grant will enhance this program by creating a water quality forecasting system based on sampling data, rainfall, weather forecasts and computer models. Twelve hour and 24-hour forecasts on the river's water quality will be available on the internet so river users can make informed decisions about using the river.

Finally, the project will support development of a watershed atlas that will depict how development in the Charles River watershed in the last several centuries has affected its hydrology and water quality. This will be used as a teaching tool by the Watershed Institute that is educating high school and junior high school students in the metropolitan area on Charles River issues.

"Good science, innovative solutions and an informed public in equal measures are powerful tools in restoring our environment," said Robert Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association. "Progress on the Charles is no accident."

EPA New England launched the Clean Charles 2005 Initiative in 1995 to make the Charles River safe for fishing and swimming. At that time, EPA gave the Charles a grade of "D," since it was meeting bacteria boating standards only 39 percent of the time and swimming standards only 19 percent.

In April, EPA New England announced that the Charles River has become substantially cleaner over the past year, and gave the river a grade of "B." The river received the same grade it had received the previous year. Stormwater continues to be a major impediment to the river's restoration.