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EPA Announces 2013 Report Card Grade for the Mystic River Watershed

Release Date: 12/18/2014
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

BOSTON –The Mystic River Watershed water quality earned a report card grade of “D” for calendar year 2013. This is the eighth public reporting on bacterial water quality conditions for the Mystic River Watershed since the first Mystic River Watershed Report Card grade was issued in 2007.

The grade was announced by EPA, in conjunction with the Mystic River Watershed Association (“MyRWA”). The grade is based on bacterial contamination found in analyzed samples that were collected by MyRWA volunteers in 2013 at 15 monitoring sites throughout the entire watershed.

While water quality in the main stem of the Mystic River from Medford to Boston Harbor has been consistently good, a majority of the data collected in the tributary streams that feed the Mystic River indicate that water quality in those areas has remained poor. During 2013, the Mystic River Watershed met state water quality standards for boating 83 percent of the time, while swimming standards were met only 49 percent of the time.

“Although the grade has not improved the past few years, a lot of good work in the watershed is being done by MyRWA and local, municipal, state, and other partners. We are confident that this work will help improve water quality in the long run,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “We need to work together to increase our commitment to improve water quality in this important urban watershed. In particular, more work needs to be done in those specific segments that have chronic water quality problems.”

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 2013, it is 66 percent) as well as qualitative criteria that are similar to those developed for the long-standing 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

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. This represents the long-established sampling locations and monitoring efforts used by MyRWA. The watershed-wide approach in the Mystic is different from the approach EPA began using in the lower Charles River in 1995, and allows EPA and other partners to better identify “hot spots” and to better understand water quality problems in the tributaries. For this reason, it is important to note that the Charles River and Mystic River grades are calculated differently and cannot be compared. However, these grades do provide a basis to track annual progress and water quality within each watershed.

“The Mystic River Watershed is highly urbanized, presenting unique and complex water quality challenges,” said Commissioner David W. Cash of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “While a lot of good work has been accomplished to date, these challenges will require continued vigilance. I am confident that the local, state and federal partners, working to improve water quality in the Mystic River, will make steady progress towards achieving that goal in the years to come.”

While water quality in the main stem of the river from Medford center to Boston Harbor meets water quality standards most of the time, especially in dry weather, water quality in many of the tributary streams feeding the Mystic often do not meet water quality standards. Bacterial water quality in tributary streams such as Wellington Brook, Winn Brook, Mill Brook, the Malden River, the Island End River and Mill Creek experienced frequent poor water quality, even in dry weather (See map posted at: Investigations to date indicate the main causes of high bacteria counts in these water bodies to be illicit sewer discharges to storm drain systems and uncontrolled urban stormwater runoff that contains pet and animal waste.

Both EPA and MassDEP continue to pursue active enforcement actions targeted at improving water quality throughout the watershed. These enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of more than 17,000 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.

“The U.S. EPA grade reflects the fact that environmental conditions in the Mystic River fall short of the expectations of the Clean Water Act. While the Mystic River is safe for boating more than 90 percent of the time, important tributaries of the watershed – Alewife Brook, the Aberjona and Malden Rivers and others – are severely impaired and contribute a significant amount of pollution into these waters. Our organization is asking U.S. EPA and MassDEP for their help in developing a clear plan and pathway to improved conditions within a reasonable time horizon. The Charles River and Boston Harbor have celebrated extraordinary improvements in water quality. We look forward to when we can include the Mystic River in this environmental success story,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association.

Long-term efforts to improve this watershed will be achieved through a collaborative effort amongst all stakeholders. The Mystic River Watershed Initiative Steering Committee continues to work on its mission and priorities statement, which focuses 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 on EPA’s Mystic River Watershed Initiative (

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