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Mystic River Water Quality Score Downgraded to D- Despite ongoing efforts, analysis shows more work needed

Release Date: 05/15/2011
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – May 15, 2011) – At the Mystic River Watershed Association’s 15th annual Herring Run & Paddle, EPA and the Mystic River Watershed Association announced the fifth 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, the Mystic River Watershed received a grade of "D-" for the calendar year 2010.

EPA New England 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.

“Although our grade is not where we would like it to be, we have solidified strong partnerships and defined a set of priorities to improve water quality and open space,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “The fact is, this sort of effort isn’t always easy. But we remain firmly committed to working with our local partners to focus on improving water quality in this important urban watershed.”

During the past two years (2008 and 2009) the grade for the Mystic River Watershed’s water quality was C-. The grade is based on bacterial contamination. The latest grade was based on monitoring data over the past year showing that water quality met swimming standards only 28 percent of the time, while boating standards were met 70 percent of the time.

The announcement of this year’s grade isn’t for a lack of effort to improve water quality conditions in the watershed. Both EPA and MassDEP continue to issue a number of enforcement actions targeted at improving water quality in the Mystic Watershed. These enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of a number of illicit discharges of sewage to storm drains throughout the watershed. Enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of over 12,000 gallons per day of sewage from storm drains in the Mystic watershed, with numerous additional illicit connections that have been identified scheduled to be removed this year. These aggressive efforts continue to address violations of water quality with regard to bacteria.

"MWRA is pleased to 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 $112 million by 2015 to reduce combined sewer overflows by over 450 million gallons a year."

“This year’s grade for the Mystic River Watershed, while disappointing is not a complete surprise,” said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. “MyRWA and its many partners know that improving environmental conditions in the Mystic River has been and will remain a long uphill battle. In recent years there is substantially increased support from all stakeholders within the watershed to make continued improvements in water quality in this river system. As more and more people in Mystic River communities recognize the value, importance and beauty of this natural resource, pressure on regional policy makers and stakeholders will increase to insure that water quality in the Mystic River is restored and that the river is available for safe boating and recreational uses, all the time.”

Long-term effort to improve this watershed will be achieved through a collaborative effort amongst all stakeholders. Earlier this spring, the Mystic River Watershed Initiative Steering Committee signed onto a mission and set of priorities that will guide its actions through 2012. The focus is on water quality as well as open space and public access. The Water Quality group intends 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.

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

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.

In addition to today’s report card announcement, EPA also announces its green infrastructure partnership with the City of Chelsea. As part of a nation-wide effort to encourage and support the expanded uses of green infrastructure in partner communities, EPA Region 1 commends Chelsea for being a green infrastructure leader in this watershed by installing tree boxes along Chester Avenue and other low impact stormwater mitigation strategies in their highly urbanized and industrialized environment.

More Information: EPA’s Mystic River Web site (

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