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Annual Charles River Report Card Shows Water Quality Remaining Good and Improving

Release Date: 04/21/2012
Contact Information: Kate Renahan, 617-918-1491

(Boston, Mass. – April 21, 2012) 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Signed in 1972, the Clean Water Act set as one of its basic goals the restoration of rivers so that they were safe for fishing and swimming. Since 1995, EPA has measured the cleanup of the Charles River against those fundamental objectives of the Clean Water Act.

The Annual Charles River Earth Day cleanup and EPA Report card event is an example of coordinated efforts by government and local groups which have had continued their success in restoring one of New England’s most polluted urban waterways.

EPA water quality monitoring data show that during 2011, the Charles River continued to have acceptable water quality for boating and swimming. EPA’s grade for the lower Charles River this year is a “B.” The grade reflects that the River met bacteria based water quality standards for boating 82% of the time and for swimming 54% of the time.

While this is an apparent drop in water quality from the last several years, when the river has earned a B+, EPA believes that the drop is attributable to the fact that several dates on which water quality sampling occurred in 2011 followed shortly upon heavy rainfall. From the inception of the Charles River Report Card event in 1995 EPA has based its grade on data that is collected by the Charles River Watershed Association at ten set sampling locations from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor. The data varies slightly from year to year depending on whether it is “wet year” or a “dry year.”

Water Quality data collected by Northeastern University on a daily basis from June 14 through September 2 during 2011 indicated that the River was meeting swimming standards between 80% of the time (as measured at MIT’s Sailing Pavilion and 91% of the time at the Esplanade Dock. These measurements taken daily through the entire summer at the locations in the Charles Basin most heavily used for recreation reflect continued success in restoring the Charles to swimmable condition.

“The Charles River is an example of a Clean Water Act success,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. “This grade reflects the excellent partnership work around the restoration of this river.”

The Charles 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.

In September of 2011, the International RiverFoundation in Brisbane Australia, recognized the Charles River with the Theiss International Riverprize, considered the most prestigious international environmental award. The RiverFoundation helps fund and support restoration and management of river basins worldwide. The Charles was recognized for its use of forward thinking and sustainable river management programs. That it was awarded to the Charles River this year is a tribute to the hard work of the many parties who joined together to restore the Charles.

More information: EPA’s Clean Charles River Initiative (

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