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On 20th Anniversary of Effort, EPA Gives Charles River a B+ and Publishes Live Water Quality Data

Release Date: 05/29/2015
Contact Information: Emily Bender, (617) 918-1037

BOSTON – EPA has given a grade of “B+” for water quality in the Charles River during 2014. The grade reflects the slight drop in water quality, encouraging more work to be done.

This is the 20th year EPA has issued a Charles River Report Card. EPA is announcing a grade of “B+” for the lower Charles River based on bacterial contamination found in analyzed samples collected by the Charles River Watershed Association over the past year at ten monitoring sites from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor. In 2014, the lower Charles River met state bacterial water quality standards for boating 91 percent of the time and swimming 65 percent of the time. 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 on qualitative criteria that is then compared and double checked to data from previous years. Generally the criteria for the grades are:

A – almost always met standards for boating and swimming
B – met standards for almost 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. Clean Water is vital. In Boston Clean Water is a defining piece of the city. Just this week, EPA and the Corps signed the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 threw protection into question for 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. Using the latest science, this rule clears up the confusion, providing greater certainty for the first time in more than a decade about which waters are important to protect.

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. This year, EPA launched a water quality monitoring buoy in front of the Museum of Science in the Charles River Lower Basin. This buoy measures water quality in near real time. The data is being streamed-live on EPA’s Charles River Website: http://www2.epa.gov/charlesriver

Next winter, the Museum of Science in Boston will open its Charles River Exhibit, where visitors can learn about the interplay between an urban environment and the River. The Exhibit will feature some of EPA’s live water quality data. Visitors will be able to access it in the museum and at home.

Citizens are now able to monitor phosphorus levels in the Charles River from their own computers. Stormwater containing phosphorus, and the algae it produces, is the the major pollution problem remaining. It is a problem that every citizen can help tackle. A major load of phosphorus comes from fertilizer and runoff from impervious surfaces like roads and rooftops. Citizens have been the driving force behind the Charles River Initiative and they can continue to help improve water quality in the River while monitoring progress themselves.

See what people are saying about the 20th Anniversary of the Charles River Initiative:

“This year’s B+ Grade marks two decades of water quality improvement efforts on the Charles River, said EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding. “This tremendous cross sector partnership continues to use science as the backbone for decision making to maintain good water quality in the River. I am so excited to say that EPA taking the science one step further by providing live water quality data to the public.”

"While we still have work to do, this year's report is a testament to the progress we have made through coordinated efforts with our federal, state and local partners," said City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. "I look forward to continuing our work together to protect the Charles, and I thank the Museum of Science for their partnership in educating our residents on the environmental impacts on this important watershed.”

“CRWA has been working to restore this once forgotten river for the past 50 years. It is wonderful to mark the improvements in water quality that have occurred over this time. While there is still work to be done until the Charles can consistently be awarded an A grade, we can get there through scientific research and strong collaborations. We are pleased to also celebrate both of these today, as we continue to work with both EPA and the Museum of Science to improve our understanding of our natural world.” -- Bob Zimmerman, Executive Director of the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA)

“It’s gratifying to see that the investments we’ve made in the Charles River have resulted in such wonderful benefits to the residents of greater Boston,” said Fred Laskey, executive director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

"When EPA set course on the Clean Charles Initiative many labeled the effort 'Mission Impossible'. Thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of good people the doubters have been proven wrong. The Charles now stands as a shining example for communities around the globe of what vision and effort can achieve for the natural resources of our cities."— John DeVillars, former EPA Regional Administrator

“In an age where we humans have considerable impact on the environment around us, it’s critical for all of us to be able to understand data and use it to inform our decisions and stimulate questions. 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 Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River,” said Christine Reich, director of exhibit development and conservation at the Boston Museum of Science.

“I have been kayaking the river from the inception of the Clean Charles initiative, sampling the dirtiest outfalls to assist the cities and towns to focus on the right parts of their stormwater systems. Water quality is definitely on the upswing, but there is still lots that can be done. I’m particularly looking forward to the issuance of the municipal permits. That will reduce the amount of pollutants entering the river and will let the cities and towns monitor water quality themselves to see the benefits of their labors.” – Roger Frymire, Citizen Scientist on the Charles River.