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Release Date: 04/23/1998
Contact Information: EPA Press Office, 617-918-1010

BOSTON - The New England Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, joined by state and local officials, environmental groups, and community activists, today issued the agency's annual report card on the Charles River, giving the river a "C" for 1997, a modest improvement over 1996.

EPA's New England Administrator John P. DeVillars announced the results at a news conference to kick off "Charles River Kids Day," an agency-sponsored event on the Esplanade to honor Earth Day and "Take Your Child To Work Day." EPA launched the Clean Charles 2005 Initiative in 1995.

"We have a long way to go, but we're on the right track for a fishable and swimmable Charles River by Earth Day 2005," DeVillars said.

DeVillars and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Assistant Commissioner for Resource Protection Arleen O'Donnell also announced $25 million in interest free loans to municipalities in combined federal and state dollars to abate pollution on the Charles.

EPA's Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen traveled from Washington to join the celebration and announce $1 million in additional funds for scientific work on the Charles. These funds will be used to identify ongoing sources of pollution. Part of this money will also be devoted to developing more advanced methods for sampling water for pollution and informing the public about the quality of water in the river.

Volunteers attending the event began posting placards announcing EPA's new report-a-sheen hotline and water quality flagging program throughout the watershed as part of the event.

"The volunteers who have joined us today are just the most recent recruits in an army that is working hard to make the Charles fishable and swimmable by Earth Day 2005," DeVillars said. "The 10 municipalities of the lower Charles, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Massachusetts DEP, the Metropolitan District Commission, Charles River Watershed Association, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, and other citizen and environmental activists are all pulling together to restore and protect this urban emerald. We are all grateful for their efforts."

"The Charles River partnership is an excellent example of a watershed community-based approach for protecting and restoring a precious water resource," said EPA Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen. "It is exactly what the president and EPA Administrator Carol Browner had in mind when they launched the Clean Water Action Plan earlier this year."

Data collected by the Charles River Watershed Association during 1997 showed that the river met boating standards 70 percent of the time and swimming standards 34 percent of the time. While those results represent only modest progress compared to 1996 -- when the river received a "C-" -- it was a dramatic improvement over 1995, when boating standards were met just 39 percent of the time and swimming standards just 19 percent of the time.

"There is no question that the Charles is getting cleaner," said Robert Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association. "This is due to the efforts of EPA-New England, the Massachusetts DEP, MWRA, Boston Water and Sewer, the Cambridge Department of Public Works and all of the communities that line the river. It's also due to the hundreds of volunteers who take water quality samples for us and a dedicated staff at CRWA."

"The Charles River is a tremendous resource and it really does improve the quality of life," said Bruce Berman, BayWatch director at Save the Harbor/Save the Bay. "It's great to see the EPA, the state, citizens and the political leadership of most of our cities working together to improve the quality of water in the Charles."

DeVillars said he expects additional water quality improvements as EPA builds upon its five-point action plan for restoring the river. The following actions will be taken in the year ahead:

    1. Enforcement/Technical Assistance: On May 1, EPA will launch an intensive enforcement sweep of potential pollution sources along the river. The sweep will be conducted by a dozen EPA field inspectors who will make unannounced visits to universities, hospitals, manufacturing facilities and other potential pollution sources. The initiative comes two months after EPA mailed warning letters to 200 major facilities along the river, encouraging them to make sure their operations were in compliance with environmental laws. In a parallel enforcement effort focusing on bacterial contamination, 10 communities on the lower Charles River are continuing to make progress identifying problem storm drains and illicit hookups that are polluting the river. By investigating storm drains and tracking down illicit connections, the communities already have eliminated one million gallons per day of contaminated flow into the river. EPA has also requested that various state agencies with storm drains discharging into the river investigate their discharges for possible pollution. When this effort is completed by June 30, all publicly-owned stormwater discharges into the lower Charles will have been investigated. EPA's enforcement efforts are being supplemented by an aggressive technical assistance program. The activities include an outreach program to assist 1,000 auto repair and service facilities on pollution prevention techniques and a trade show on innovative stormwater management technologies scheduled for June 4 at the Cambridge Hyatt Regency. EPA also has established a hot line for reporting chemical and other spills into the river. "Report-a-sheen" signs are being posted all along the river, beginning today.

    2. Stormwater Management: EPA is working with each of the 10 lower Charles communities to develop state-of-the-art stormwater management programs by July 1998. Among other features, the plans will guide communities in storm drain maintenance, street sweeping, development regulations and catch-basin cleaning. To assist the municipalities, EPA has convened a Clean Charles Stormwater Subcommittee, bringing all 10 municipalities, state agencies and federal experts together to share ideas. EPA will fund a consultant to fine tune these plans and make sure they are using the most innovative and cost effective technologies available. Another action bolstering pollution abatement efforts by communities was the announcement by EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, awarding more than $25 million in zero-interest loans to communities in the Charles River Watershed. The State Revolving Fund was established with federal dollars and a minimum of 20 percent matching state dollars. "These loans of combined federal and state dollars will make the river cleaner and they'll also save Charles River communities millions as they address stormwater issues, illicit hookups and other pollution problems," DeVillars said.

    3. Combined Sewer Overflow Controls: Billions of dollars have been spent to construct a new sewage treatment plant on Deer Island, yet millions of gallons of mixed sewage and stormwater continue to spill into the Charles through combined sewer overflows, or CSOs. To address this problem, the MWRA has proposed a CSO plan that will greatly reduce the number of CSO discharges. The plan, now under discussion with EPA, will result in at least an 80 to 85 percent reduction from current discharge levels, and a 98 percent reduction from 1988 levels.

    4. Scientific Research: The $1 million of new federal funding will support additional scientific research about the river. Building off years of data collection by the watershed association and other groups, EPA has convened a Clean Charles Water Quality Subcommittee comprised of state, federal, municipal and environmental group representatives. Using $500,000 of EPA money, this group is designing a watershed study to examine the health of the river, focusing on areas of high environmental value such as potential swimming beaches. The two-year study will also measure levels of sediment contamination in the river and pinpoint areas where aggressive stormwater controls would be beneficial. EPA is also investing $520,000 through its beaches program to develop more advanced scientific methods for analyzing pollutants in water and communicating those results immediately to the Boston-area public. This project, which will focus on Boston Harbor beaches and the Charles River, is funded through a new EPA program called EMPACT - Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking.

    5. Public Education and Outreach: EPA has provided another $60,000 to the Charles River Watershed Association for a water quality and sampling program that will produce timely data about the condition of the river. Beginning this summer, color-coded flags will be posted at boathouses along the river to inform the public about water quality on any particular day. Following today's news conference, volunteers, including children attending the event fanned out across the Esplanade, posting Report-A-Sheen-Hotline posters at boathouses and stenciling "Don't Dump" messages on storm drains next to the river. Children also learned about water quality sampling, stormwater, oil spill cleanup technologies and model sailboat racing. The kids event was coordinated by EPA-New England, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.

Release # 98-4-28