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Release Date: 06/04/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042) Kris Finn, Charles River Watershed Association (617-965-5975) Bill Walsh-Rogalski, EPA Counsel for Special Projects (617-918-1035)

BOSTON - The Clean Charles 2005 Task Force's efforts to make the Charles River swimmable by the year 2005 has been recognized by one of the nation's top environmental groups for its success in addressing stormwater pollution.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, in a report released this week, said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Charles 2005 Initiative proves that there are "effective -- and cost effective" - ways to reduce stormwater runoff.

"The Charles is troubled by discharges of every kind, especially raw sewage and stormwater," said the report, called "Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Runoff Pollution." "A government-led partnership has taken strides in reducing these discharges and sources, notably in eliminating the illegal and illicit hookups and spills that spew sewage and other pollutants into the river."

The NRDC collected information on hundreds of stormwater programs across the country and highlighted 166 initiatives that were environmentally and economically successful.

"When we began the Clean Charles initiative in 1995, we were convinced that the river could be cleaned, with the help of businesses, local governments and citizens in the watershed," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "We are thrilled that four years later we are already seeing a much healthier river. We are also pleased the NRDC has recognized the efforts made by so many of us who care about the future of the Charles."

The report said that "Although these enforcement efforts were originally spurred on by EPA, which had required communities to sample stormwater discharges to detect illicit sanitary connections, the cities now agree on the effectiveness of this approach." It named the towns of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Dedham, Needham, Newton, Waltham, Wellesley, Weston and Watertown as partners in the ambitious effort to make the Charles swimmable by 2005.

The initiative has eliminated a million gallons a day of sewage from remaining illicit connections alone. This does not include substantial other water quality benefits due to EPA's efforts to eliminate combined sewer overflows, educate the public on stormwater management and encourage municipalities to voluntarily improve stormwater management.

The report praised the work done by the Charles River Watershed Association, which has been a key partner in the Clean Charles Initiative. CRWA's work sampling and flagging the river to alert the public to water quality "has been part of the effort to revive the Charles as a prime recreational water," the report said.

Samples taken by the CRWA in 1998 found the Charles River was significantly cleaner that year than in 1997. The river was clean enough for boating 83 percent of the time in 1998, up from 70 percent the year before, and met swimming standards 51 percent of the time, compared to 34 percent a year earlier. In 1995, when samples were first taken, the river met swimming standards only 19 percent of the time.

"The flagging program closes the gap between what we now know about water quality in the Charles and what is communicated to the public," said Robert L. Zimmerman, executive director of CRWA. "Our data shows the river is much cleaner now than even two years ago, but we think boaters want to know when bacteria levels pose a health risk."

Urban stormwater pollution threatens the nation's waterways and public health and costs Americans hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Most Americans live in areas where water quality is compromised by urban runoff, which largely comes from every day activities such as driving cars, maintaining lawns and evening walking dogs. Construction sites, septic systems and illegal dumping also add to the mix of sediments, toxic metals, pesticides oil and fertilizers that pollute our waterways.

The NRDC report describes key strategies used by local governments to control stormwater runoff,. These include: treating or preventing runoff in new developments; public education; controlling construction runoff; eliminating improper or illegal connections and discharges, and pollution prevention programs.

The NRDC is a national nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers, and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.