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Release Date: 10/16/1998
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

BOSTON - When 5,000 of the world's finest rowers compete in the Head of the Charles regatta this weekend, the Charles River will be the cleanest it has been in decades, the New England Office of the U.S. EPA said today in announcing more than $17 million dollars in investments and a new series of actions to clean up the river.

Once a virtual cesspool, heavily polluted with industrial wastes, sewage and contaminated stormwater, the Charles is now meeting water quality standards for boating 83 percent of the time, according to new data gathered by the Charles River Watershed Association under an EPA grant. The sampling data reflects a dramatic improvement from just three years ago when the boating standard was only being met 39 percent of the time.

"Cleanup efforts in the Charles River are paying off," said John P. DeVillars, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office, which is spearheading a river cleanup effort known as Clean Charles 2005. "This world-class rowing event deserves a world-class water quality restoration effort - and that's exactly what we have underway. Through close collaboration between EPA, environmental groups and our state and municipal partners, we're well on our way to achieving our goal of a fishable and swimmable Charles River by Earth Day 2005."

The actions announced by EPA today include several enforcement-related moves that will further improve the river.

    • EPA today issued a formal Clean Water Act information demand letter to the Cambridge Electric Co., which was recently identified as the probable source of a recurring oil sheen in the Charles. Responding to a call from a citizen who noticed the sheen, EPA this summer conducted an investigation that led to Cambridge Electric's Blackstone Power Station in Cambridge as the probable source. The letter is part of EPA's ongoing investigation into the problem. DeVillars said Cambridge Electric has been very cooperative on the issue and has already addressed the likely cause of the problem - the use of an oil-cooling process for two of the power plant's turbines.
Other vigilant citizens noting sheens on the river are encouraged to call the EPA Report-A-Sheen Hotline at 800-424-8802. Due to citizen awareness of oil sheens on the river, EPA is eyeing a number of facilities who may be causing problems and anticipates additional enforcement action for violation of oil discharges in the near future.

Cambridge Electric was one of 200 facilities that were investigated as part of an aggressive enforcement sweep by EPA earlier this year. The inspections were done between May and July. The facilities were warned of the inspections last spring and were given two months to audit their operations to make sure they were complying with environmental laws.

EPA has concluded this phase of inspections and is developing enforcement cases against a number of violators.

"Our goal was to give everyone a heads-up to get their environmental house in order," DeVillars said. "What we found during the inspections was that the facilities in the watershed had taken the task seriously. Even the most hardbitten EPA inspectors were impressed by the thorough work undertaken by facility managers."

EPA intends to use penalties from the enforcement actions to initiate supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) that will help advance the Charles River cleanup. Earlier this month, EPA announced that the Genzyme Corp. in Cambridge had agreed to fund a water quality study in the Charles as part of a settlement of an enforcement case stemming from hazardous waste violations.

EPA also announced investments in the river cleanup project totally $17 million:

    • EPA will invest $478,000 in two Charles River projects that link cutting-edge science with communication techniques that deliver water quality data to the public on a daily basis and in terms that are understandable and useful.
The first project, funded under the EPA's EMPACT (Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking) program, will provide $328,000 to enhance an ongoing study of how stormwater contaminates the river. The funding will allow EPA to install in the river high-technology monitoring instruments linked directly to the World Wide Web. With the click of a computer mouse, scientists, students and sailors will be able to view on their computer screens the amount and quality of stormwater flowing into the Charles.

"Having virtual real-time information on how stormwater affects the Charles will have enormous value in educating students and the public about how our day-to-day habits may be contaminating the river," DeVillars said. "Keeping trash out of the gutter and disposing of used car oil appropriately - all of these actions will have direct and substantial impacts on how soon the Charles River will be declared swimmable."

The second project will provide $150,000 to field test accelerated laboratory methods to detect bacteria and other disease causing agents in water. The Charles River Watershed Association will use the bacteria data to post red warning flags at boathouses on the river during the rowing season. EPA will also be researching new DNA-based methods to provide a more complete picture of harmful bacteria and viruses in river water.

    • EPA issued enforcement orders to the Towns of Newton and Milford to further their efforts to eliminate illicit sewage discharges into the river through municipal stormdrains. Newton and Milford are among 10 municipalities in the lower watershed operating under orders from EPA to investigate and remove illicit discharges. Already, more than 1 million gallons per day of contaminated flow has been eliminated through this effort.
DeVillars said the Town of Newton has done commendable work to date to eliminate discharges into the Charles. With the assistance of the State Revolving Loan fund for water improvement projects, the town will be investing $16.4 million to seal drains that have been carrying contaminated water into the Charles from Laundry and Cheescake Brooks. The bulk of this project--$14.5 million-- will be secured from the State Revolving Loan Fund. This is a portion of the $25 million in state and federal funds made available to Charles River communities through the state's revolving loan fund this year.
    • EPA has recruited a nationally-renowned stormwater management consultant to work with 10 Charles River communities in implementing their stormwater management plans that were developed over the past year. Thomas Shueler of the Center for Watershed Protection in Maryland has received a $127,000 EPA grant to help the 10 lower Charles communities - from Weston to Boston - fine-tune and efficiently implement their stormwater management plans over the next year. Shueler will also canvass the lower watershed to identify areas where structural enhancements and management changes can be made to improve stormwater discharges to the lower Charles.
    • EPA is cracking down on oil pollution by enlisting the help of two environmental groups, the Charles River Watershed Association and the Friends of the Muddy River. The two groups are receiving grants totaling $35,000 to investigate sources of oil pollution on the river. Once the sources are identified, EPA will issue orders under the under the federal Oil Pollution Act to force illegal dischargers to address the problems. EPA is giving the Friends of the Muddy an additional $10,000 to develop a monitoring program for the Muddy River. The monitoring program is among many the EPA have funded along the Charles to identify pollution sources along the river.
    • EPA is training the next generation of watershed managers by providing a grant of $25,000 to the Watershed Institute, a local environmental education and advocacy group based at Boston College. Under the grant, the institute's leaders - Charlie Lord and Max Kennedy - will work with science teachers in high schools in Brookline, Boston, Cambridge, Needham, Watertown and Newton to build an environmental course focusing on the lower Charles. The Institute will design a series of field study projects that will allow students to track the recovery of the river by assessing various animal and plant species in and along the river.
Lord and Kennedy will also teach high school students the basics of watershed management by relating how various day-to-day activities can potentially harm water quality.

"Recruiting the future's environmental leaders is key to restoring our urban rivers," Lord said.