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Mystic River Scores C- : Good Progress Underway

Release Date: 05/16/2010
Contact Information: Contact: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – May 16, 2010) – At the Mystic River Watershed Association’s 14th annual Herring Run & Paddle, EPA announced the fourth public reporting on the condition of the Mystic River since kicking off a collaborative effort addressing water quality issues in the urban river in 2006. This year, EPA is pleased to report that the Mystic River Watershed received a grade of "C-" for the calendar year of 2009.

EPA New England’s regional administrator, Curt Spalding, joined community members and environmental advocates at the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in Somerville, Mass. to announce the grade and celebrate the return of the herring to the Mystic.

“We are proud to have a successful and strong partnership now forged between local citizens all the way up through federal government, with the shared goal of improving water quality in the Mystic River,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “A ‘C-‘is a move in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do. By pulling together, we hope to make the Mystic River Watershed one of the most vital, most usable and most valued watersheds in the country.”

While last year we saw a slight improvement in the grade (from the announcement of a D in 2007 and 2008 to a C- in 2009), this year we see progress holding steady at a C-. The grade for the Mystic River Watershed indicates that over the past year, water quality met swimming standards 57 percent of the time and boating standards 93 percent of the time. The grade is based on bacterial contamination.

The announcement of this year’s grade isn’t for a lack of effort or work going on in the watershed. Based on extensive surface water sampling conducted over the past two years, both EPA and MassDEP have issued a number of enforcement actions in 2009 targeted at improving water quality in the Mystic Watershed. Increased enforcement efforts since the inception of this effort have resulted in the removal of a number of illicit discharges of sewage to storm drains throughout the watershed. These enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of over 10,000 gallons per day of sewage from storm drains in the Mystic watershed. These aggressive efforts continue to address violations of water quality with regard to bacteria; however, there are many other water quality challenges we need to address in the future such as nutrients, stormwater, contaminated sediments, etc.

"MWRA is pleased to finally be moving forward with major projects to address pollution problems in Alewife Brook," said Frederick A. Laskey, MWRA executive director. "Working together with the City of Cambridge, we will spend $117 million by 2015 to reduce combined sewer overflows by more than 85% from levels a decade ago."

Long-term effort to improve this watershed will be achieved through a collaborative effort amongst all stakeholders, and EPA and its partners have put significant effort into coalescing a 22-member Steering Committee made up of citizen groups, not-for-profit organizations, and municipal representatives, and federal and state agencies. This Mystic Steering Committee has set its goal as the collaborative effort to both improve water quality in-, and to increase and improve access to-, the Mystic River and its tributaries. The Steering Committee and a number of sub-committees have met several times over the past year and are actively determining specific activities to tackle the issues of water quality and access in the watershed.

"Water quality in the Mystic River Watershed continues to improve and there is increased momentum throughout the watershed to protect and restore this valuable natural resource. It is important that the work continue,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. “A healthy river environment improves life for all the residents and communities of the Mystic River Watershed. A healthy watershed also improves conditions for the plant and animal life that rely upon clean rivers, lakes and streams for their survival. It is important to recall that fish cannot boil their water.”

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

It is important to note that EPA's Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has made environmental justice a clear priority. She has stated that environmental justice “is not an issue we can afford to relegate to the margins. It has to be part of our thinking in every decision we make.” Environmental justice is an important consideration in EPA New England’s urban rivers strategy and is a clear objective of the Mystic River Watershed Steering Committee.

More Information:
EPA’s Mystic River Web site (

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