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EPA Announces $400,000 to Improve Water Quality in Charles River

Release Date: 05/02/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $400,000 grant to help the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) in its cleanup efforts along the Charles River. The grant is among nearly $15 million of grants awarded today to 20 watershed organizations across the country as part of the agency's new Watershed Initiative.

Today's announcement comes one year after President Bush, in his State of the Union Address, asked the nation's governors and tribal leaders to submit proposals to support community-based approaches to clean up the nation's watersheds. This year Congress appropriated $15 million of the President's original $20 million request.

"This national competition for these Watershed Initiative grants generated a torrent of outstanding proposals," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, who announced the winners today in New Jersey. "EPA is very excited to commit significant federal dollars to support these top watershed efforts, all of which will serve as national models for other communities to follow."

Selected from among more than 176 nominations, the Charles River Watershed Association will use the funds for various activities aimed at restoring what was once a notoriously polluted river to a world class recreational water body. Among the projects that will be pursued:

    • DNA Pollution Tracking: DNA-based monitoring of dry weather and stormwater discharges from storm drains will be done to better pinpoint sources of bacteria pollution to the river. The US Geological Service, in collaboration with EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, is currently undertaking a pilot DNA study to determine whether bacteria pollution in specific hot spots of the river are coming from humans, pet waste or wildlife such as waterfowl or racoons. As sources are identified, be it humans, dogs, geese or ducks, stormwater management strategies can be implemented to find the sources and educate the public to reduce their impacts.
    • Recreational Access and Education Flagging System: During the high-use summer months, the Charles River Watershed Association will collect and analyze water quality samples up to three days per week and notify the public of the river's suitability for boating by hoisting color-coded flags at boat houses, in the newspapers and on the web. On other days, CRWA will use statistical computer models to predict water quality. The project will build on a red- and blue-flagging system that is already being used at some of the river's boat houses.
    • Fisheries Restoration: CRWA will work with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife with its assessment of current fish communities in the Charles in developing target fish communities for the river. This will lead to the development of flow recommendations to restore and protect fish that can be incorporated into management and permitting decisions.
    • Boosting Instream Flows in the River: The watershed association will expand its distribution of cistern/drywell systems to watershed residents so that more rainwater can be retained in the watershed as opposed to washing down storm drains and out of the watershed. Recycling and reusing rainwater is a high priority for the CRWA because it will boost in-stream flows in the river and help ensure ample drinking water supplies for Upper Charles communities. The watershed association has already launched a pilot project in the town of Bellingham to encourage homeowners to install SmartStorm systems that capture roof rainwater runoff.
"This proposal from the Charles River Watershed Association dovetails perfectly with EPA's ongoing efforts to restore the Lower Charles so that it is safe for fishing and swimming by Earth Day 2005," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office, speaking at a news conference today at EPA's offices in Boston. "It is a great honor to support one of the nation's preeminent watershed groups working on one of the most visible and highly utilized urban rivers in America."

"The Charles River is a treasured resource within our urban landscape," said Massachusetts Environmental Affairs Secretary Ellen Roy Herzfelder, who joined Varney at today's press conference. "We wouldn't be where we are today without great partners like the CRWA and the EPA's generous commitment to this community-based initiative will help to ensure that the Charles continues to be a source of beauty for all to enjoy."

"This is fantastic. It allows us to move ahead with some of the most innovative solutions in the country for water pollution and in stream flow," added Robert Zimmerman, executive director of the watershed association.

Flanked by a various partners working on the Clean Charles 2005 Initiative, Varney also announced the latest water quality results for the Charles River. Varney said the river continues to be substantially cleaner than it was several years ago, but that there was little change in water quality from a year ago.

Varney said the river was clean enough for boating 91 percent of the time last year, up from 39 percent in 1995, and met swimming standards 39 percent of the time, compared to 19 percent in 1995. The results are based on extensive wet- and dry-weather sampling done last year by the watershed association.

Varney gave the river a grade of "B" for last year's results, the same grade as a year ago, but up from a "D" when the agency's Clean Charles 2005 Initiative was first launched. The agency's goal is to make the river safe for swimming and fishing by Earth Day 2005.

The minimal water quality improvements over the past year were attributed to the more diffuse nature of pollutants entering the river.

"We've been successful closing off combined sewer overflow pipes and hundreds of illegal connections that were responsible for millions of gallons of pollution each day," Varney said. "Now we need to focus on the stormwater pollution that spills into the river during and after heavy rains. This is the pollution that storm runoff picks up from streets, parking lots and lawns before washing into storm drains and catch basins that lead eventually to the river."

EPA and the watershed association are teaming up with dozens of partners, including municipalities, corporations, universities, state agencies and other federal agencies, to tackle the stormwater problem which contributes more than 50 percent of the total bacterial pollution coming into the Lower Charles. This follows on the very successful projects undertaken to date that have vastly reduced flows from combined sewers into the river during heavy rains from 1,742 million gallons a year in 1989 to 182 million gallons a year today, that have eliminated one million gallons a day of sewerage that flowed from improperly plumbed sewer lines to storm drains and the river; and that have assisted all the municipalities in the Lower Charles area to develop state of the art stormwater management plans.