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Region 1: EPA New England

Basic Information

The Charles River flows 80 miles from Hopkinton, Mass. to Boston Harbor. One of New England's natural crown jewels, the Charles River is the most prominent urban river within the six New England states. The Charles is a major source of recreation and a readily-available connection to the natural world for hundreds of thousands of residents of the Boston metropolitan area.

The "Lower Charles" – the area from the Watertown Dam to Boston Harbor – is one of the busiest recreational rivers in the world, lined with boat houses, jogging paths, sports fields and concert performance facilities that are used heavily by the area's city dwellers each year. The Charles River has historically suffered from pollution – most of which has been directly caused by the densely populated area through which the river flows. The major types of pollution have been excess bacteria caused by sewage contaminating the river water; and excessive amounts of nutrients entering the river.

In 1995, EPA launched an ambitious effort to restore the river to better ecological health. EPA identified a goal of making the Charles River both "fishable" and "swimmable." The effort, called the Clean Charles River Initiative, has made dramatic strides improving water quality in the river, thanks to the cooperation and commitment of numerous federal, state and local agencies as well as strong participation from citizens, nonprofit groups and private institutions.

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