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EPA Mystic River Report Card: “D” -- Room for Improvement - But Help Is On the Way

Release Date: 04/10/2008
Contact Information: David Deegan, 617-918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – April 10, 2008) – In the second public reporting on the condition of the Mystic River since kicking off a collaborative effort last year to address water quality issues in this urban river, EPA has given the Mystic River Watershed a grade of "D." Even with a low grade, however, EPA believes that prospects for the river are positive, based on the attention now being paid by environmental agencies, organizations and concerned citizens.

The EPA grade for the Mystic River Watershed indicates that over the past year, water quality met swimming standards 46 percent of the time and boating standards 79 percent of the time. The grade is based on bacterial contamination.

Last year, EPA launched a focused and aggressive effort to coordinate with State agencies, the communities along the Mystic River and local environmental and community organizations, to address water quality issues in the Mystic Watershed. The effort has a goal of improving water quality on the Mystic River and its tributary streams. This means restoring the watershed to both fishable and swimmable conditions based on measurable water quality standards.

This year, EPA worked with federal, state, and local officials as well as nonprofit groups to host the Mystic River Summit on April 10th, a forum to generate ideas, develop goals, and map a strategy. The summit is part of EPA New England’s Urban River Strategy and is an important step toward our long-term commitment to improving water quality.

“The Mystic River has played an important role in our local history, and it’s time to give the watershed the attention it needs to thrive once again,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “It will take a lot of hard work to restore this river, but along with our partners we are committed to making a cleaner and healthier Mystic.”

"Thanks to our partnership with EPA and local advocacy groups, we are poised to turn the corner and make some significant gains in bringing the Mystic River back," said Glenn Haas, assistant commissioner for Resources Protection at the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). "Despite its current ranking, progress is being made now, with more to come on eliminating illegal connections, stopping sewer overflows, and reducing discharges that pollute the river and its tributaries."

While a grade of “D” is the same grade based on similar water quality as last year, much has changed to address water quality issues in the Mystic Watershed. EPA and MassDEP have implemented a number of enforcement actions in the watershed to compel actions to improve water quality. The government agencies have also undertaken a significant level of outreach, assistance and stakeholder involvement to effect the long-term changes necessary. EPA expects, during the next year, to continue to lay the groundwork for both near- and long-term improvements in the Mystic Watershed, by continuing to increase enforcement, sampling, and outreach efforts in the watershed.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) has completed a number of projects that have improved water quality in the Mystic Watershed over the years. Most recently, in 2007 MWRA completed and activated the Boston 019 Storage Conduit, located under the Boston side of the Tobin Bridge. "Since March 2007, this facility has prevented over 5 million gallons of combined sewage and stormwater that would have otherwise discharged to the Little Mystic Channel, degrading water quality," said Frederick A. Laskey, MWRA executive director.

Further, MWRA designs are nearing the final stages for improved sewage infrastructure in East Boston along the Mystic River and Chelsea Creek, and MWRA is planning on moving forward with the much needed Alewife Brook CSO Projects in partnership with the City of Cambridge.

Working with our state and local partners, as well as dedicated citizens, EPA will continue to take appropriate actions to improve water quality based on data and findings of ongoing sampling, investigations, and interactions with local watershed and community groups, watershed municipalities, and other state agencies and public organizations. Storm water runoff continues to be a significant problem throughout the Mystic Watershed. Later this year, EPA expects to reissue the “Phase II Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System,” or “MS4” permit, which will affect nearly all of the municipalities in the Mystic Watershed. EPA expects that the permit will be an effective tool to regulate storm water discharges and related activities for the next five years, helping to improve water quality in the Mystic.

“While we look forward to a time when the Mystic’s grade is higher and water quality is cleaner, today we celebrate many small victories that have led us to the progress we are seeing in specific areas,” said John Reinhardt of the Mystic River Watershed Association. “While we are happy that time and attention is being paid to the Mystic River Watershed, we need more of both and with the help of EPA and others in doing this, we are confident that the tide is turning in the right direction.”

“Though I am not surprised that the Mystic River Watershed has ranked so poorly on its water quality report card, there are reasons to celebrate. Many community groups, environmental organizations, academic institutions, municipalities and state and federal governments are working diligently and passionately to improve the Mystic River Watershed. This watershed is important for so many communities and for so many different reasons. It’s great to be one the groups involved in positive changes for the future of our watershed!” said Roseann T. Bongiovanni, City of Chelsea District 3 Councilor and Council President.

When assessing water quality to assign a grade to the Mystic River Watershed, EPA uses similar criteria as for the Charles River Initiative, as follows:

A – meet swimming and boating standards nearly all of the time
B -- meet swimming and boating standards most of the time
C -- meet swimming standards some of the time, and boating standards most of the time
D -- meet swimming and boating standards some of the time
F -- fail swimming and boating standards most of the time

More Information: EPA’s Mystic River Web site