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EPA Announces 2012 Report Card grades for the lower Charles River and the Mystic River Watershed

Release Date: 08/07/2013
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – Aug. 7, 2013) – In conjunction with the Charles River Watershed Association and the Mystic River Watershed Association, EPA is announcing water quality report card grades for calendar year 2012. These report cards represent the 18th and seventh public reporting on bacterial water quality conditions for the Charles River and Mystic River Watershed, respectively, since kicking off collaborative efforts addressing water quality issues in these urban rivers.

Lower Charles River
This year we are announcing a grade of “B+” for the lower Charles River. The grade is based on bacterial contamination found in analyzed samples collected by the Charles River Watershed over the past year at ten monitoring sites from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor. In 2012, the lower Charles River met state water quality standards for boating 87 percent of the time and swimming 67 percent of the time. In dry weather, the lower Charles River met swimming standards 93 percent of the time, which is the highest percentage in 17 years since the calculation of the grade began. The Charles River Watershed Association has been collecting data at these sampling sites since 1995. From the inception of this Report Card, EPA has relied solely on qualitative criteria when determining the grade for the lower Charles River, they are:

A – always met standards for boating and swimming
B – met standards for all boating and some swimming
C – met standards for some boating and some swimming
D – met standards for some boating but no swimming
F – did not meet standards for boating or swimming

The lower Charles River has improved dramatically from the launch of EPA’s Charles River Initiative in 1995, when the river received a D for meeting boating standards only 39 percent of the time and swimming standards just 19 percent of the time. As collaborative efforts between EPA, state and local government, private organizations and environmental advocates continue, the goal of a consistently healthy river becomes closer to an everyday reality.

“EPA is very proud of the clean water success story illustrated by the long-term effort to improve water quality and ecological conditions in the Charles River,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. “This effort and success owes credit to the remarkable partnership between federal, state and local organizations all committed to doing the hard work of restoring this river.”

“The Charles has improved measurably in the last fifteen years,” said Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association. “We still have more work to do to achieve an “A” grade, but we are encouraged by the collaborative efforts of CRWA and other organizations who share our goal of a fully-restored Charles River.”

Mystic River Watershed
This year we are announcing a grade of “D” for the Mystic River Watershed. The grade is based on bacterial contamination found in analyzed samples that were collected by volunteers over the past year at fifteen monitoring sites throughout the watershed. This year, the Mystic River Watershed met state water quality standards for boating 75 percent of the time, while swimming standards were met only 47 percent of the time.

Unlike the grade determination for the lower Charles, when assessing water quality to assign a grade to the Mystic River Watershed, EPA uses an average between the overall percentages that water quality met the state criteria for swimming and boating (for 2012, it is 61%) as well as qualitative criteria that are similar to those developed for the Charles River Initiative, as follows:

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

Other differences between the grades include the locations where water quality samples are taken. In the lower Charles, monitoring samples are collected in the middle of the river’s main stem from the Watertown dam to the New Charles River dam in Boston, whereas in the Mystic River Watershed, samples are taken throughout the entire watershed and often in the tributaries before they discharge into the main stem of the river. These different methods represent long-established sampling locations and monitoring efforts used by the two watershed associations. The watershed-wide approach in the Mystic is different than the approach EPA began using in the lower Charles in 1995 and allows EPA and other stakeholders to better identify “hot spots” as well as better understand water quality problems in the tributaries. For these reasons, as well as the use of numerical averaging in the Mystic River Watershed, it is important to note that the grades cannot and should not be compared. However, these grades do provide a basis to track annual progress and water quality within each watershed.

“Although the current grade and water quality data do not yet show significant improvement, we will continue to focus on improving water quality in this watershed,” continued EPA New England’s Curt Spalding. “We have taken a number of actions to remove contamination sources from these waters and we anticipate seeing improvements over the next several years.”

The past year saw continued efforts to improve water quality conditions in the Mystic River watershed. Both EPA and MassDEP continue to pursue a number of active enforcement actions targeted at improving water quality throughout the watershed. These 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.

EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association, said, “Unfortunately this year’s grade reflects that in 2012, the Mystic River system as a whole was deeply compromised by bacterial contamination. This is particularly true for wet weather. It is important also to note, however, that the data confirm the main stem of the Mystic River and the Mystic Lakes remain safe and rewarding destinations for recreational boating and for safe swimming in designated areas. The Mystic River Watershed Association will continue to gather essential water quality information to assist stakeholders and to support efficient deployment of local resources. It is hoped that, in the near term, the data will begin to reflect the improvements in local environmental conditions we anticipate will result from recent efforts to reduce sewage inputs in the Mystic. More needs to be done, however, to address this public health concern. New funding sources must be found and applied to accelerate long overdue repairs and renovations required in Mystic River sewer and stormwater infrastructure to eliminate this impairment.”

Long-term efforts to improve this watershed will be achieved through a collaborative effort amongst all stakeholders. Earlier this year, the Mystic River Watershed Initiative Steering Committee carried forward their mission and set of priorities to continue guiding its actions for the next year. The focus is on water quality as well as open space and public access. The Water Quality subcommittee continues 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.

More information: EPA’s Clean Charles River Initiative (www.epa.gov/region1/charles)

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

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