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Clean Charles River Effort Celebrated For Ten Years of Environmental Progress - Water Quality Significantly Improved

Release Date: 05/31/2005
Contact Information:

Contact: David Deegan, EPA Office of Public Affairs, (617) 918-1017,

For Immediate Release: May 31, 2005; Release # dd050525

BOSTON – The lower Charles River shows signs of significantly improved water quality and ecological health, due to efforts undertaken in the last ten years. EPA gave a grade of “B+” to reflect the health of the lower Charles - the highest grade since EPA began its annual evaluation.

Marking a decade of coordinated efforts between EPA, state and local governments, private organizations, and environmental advocates, the Clean Charles initiative was celebrated today by current and former officials who have worked to improve the health of the lower Charles River.

“We can all be proud that we are bringing this urban river back to ecological health,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England regional office. “This is a great example of many different groups partnering together for a common goal, and our accomplishment is a cleaner Charles River. EPA remains committed to additional effort to keep improving the health of the lower Charles.”

Since 1995, EPA has promoted the “Clean Charles” effort, working closely with other government agencies and private organizations, with the common goal of making the lower Charles River, from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor, both fishable and swimmable. The Charles is substantially cleaner than when this project began. However, there is still work to be done, and EPA today reaffirmed its commitment to efforts that will continue to improve water quality in the river.

During the course of the Clean Charles effort, there has been significant and demonstrable improvement in the river’s overall health and water quality. Based on data collected by the Charles River Watershed Association, the number of days when water quality is meeting state bacterial standards has increased from 19 percent for swimming and 39 percent for boating a decade ago, to 54 percent and 96 percent respectively, today.

EPA data indicates that the swimming standard in the most heavily used part of the river, i.e. in the basin between the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, was met consistently during summer sampling in 2004.

“The Charles is a shining example of cooperative conservation and urban river restoration for the rest of America,” commented Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for EPA's national water programs, who attended today’s Clean Charles event.

Urbanization and associated degradation of the Charles River has occurred over a four-hundred year period starting in the early 1600s. EPA and its partners have been working to reverse that degradation for the past decade. The improvement in the river’s health is an extraordinary accomplishment.

EPA is reaffirming its commitment to achieve a healthy Charles River, where people can swim and fish habitat is restored, along the lower Charles. EPA is establishing a new five year goal for additional action to address water quality issues.

EPA will redouble efforts to address areas, especially in the lower Charles, that continue to exceed the state’s bacterial standard. Along with state agencies, such as the Mass. Dept. Of Environmental Protection and municipalities bordering the river, EPA continues to aggressively pursue compliance with water quality standards for all communities to further reduce bacterial contamination levels in the Charles. Local water resources officials are expected to conduct system-wide illicit discharge detection and elimination programs. EPA continues to work with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) to address any other issues related to Combined Sewer Overflows in the lower Charles.

Over the course of research and efforts to clean the lower Charles River during the past ten years, it is clear that some issues relating to bottom sediment do not lend themselves to easy or quick fixes. Sediment contamination in the lower Charles has degraded benthic life and affected those resident fish species that are bottom feeders, such as carp.

Cleaning the Charles River has proven to be challenging work, requiring perseverance and commitment to a long-term goal. EPA and its partners’ efforts to improve the health of this vital urban river have achieved a much cleaner river. Working together, EPA is committed to continue the work to make the Charles a healthy and vibrant living resource here in our backyard.

Related Information:
Clean Charles 2005
Charles River Core Monitoring Reports (NERL)
Rivers and Watersheds