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News Releases from Region 01

Localized Mystic River Report Card Shows Specific Information about Water Quality

This Year we See Both Improvements and Areas for More Work

Contact Information: 
Emily Bender (bender.emily@epa.gov)

BOSTON - In coordination with the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA), EPA is utilizing an enhanced, more locally-specific analysis of water quality in the Mystic River Watershed for the second year. To better relate environmental conditions for the public, EPA and MyRWA are issuing grades for each segment of the watershed, totaling 14 separate stretches of river and tributaries.

The grades are based on bacterial contamination found in analyzed samples that were collected by MyRWA volunteers over the past year at fifteen monitoring sites throughout the entire watershed, as well as data collected at numerous locations by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA). From 2006 to 2013, an overall grade was used to track water quality progress in the Mystic River Watershed. Beginning in 2014, the amount of data collected each year supports an improved and more sophisticated grading system, where a grade can be assigned, using similar criteria as in the past, to each major segment or tributary in the Mystic River watershed.

Grade Water Segment Avg. Meeting MA water quality standards boating & swimming
Mystic River Watershed Water Quality Grades and Compliance Rates – Calendar Year 2015
A+ Upper Mystic Lake 95.9%
A- Mystic River (Salt Water)            88.9%
A- Chelsea Creek 89.5%
A- Mystic River (Fresh Water) 86.2%
B Belle Isle Inlet 77.8%
C+ Aberjona River 65.9%
C Malden River 63.3%
C- Meetinghouse Brook 57.9%
D Alewife Brook 49.5%
D Mill Brook 48.6%
D- Little River 44.3%
F Mill Creek 33.5%
F Winn's Brook 32.7%
F Island End River 25.4%

For the second year in a row, analysis of the data shows that water quality in the main stem of the Mystic River, including the Upper and Lower Mystic Lakes, is quite good on a regular basis. On the other hand, water quality in many of the urban tributary streams in the Mystic River watershed is poor. Water quality in the main stem of the river from the Mystic Lakes, through Medford Square, and on to Boston Harbor, meets water quality standards nearly all of the time, especially in dry weather. However, water quality in many of the tributary streams feeding the Mystic often do not meet water quality standards. Water quality is frequently poor due to bacterial contamination in tributary streams such as Winn's Brook, Little River, Mill Brook, the Malden River, the Island End River, and Mill Creek, even in dry weather. Investigations to date indicate the main causes of high bacteria counts in these water bodies to be illicit sewer discharges to storm drain systems and uncontrolled urban stormwater runoff that contains pet and animal waste.

A three-year rolling average was again used to calculate the grade for each segment. A grade for each year is calculated and the current year's grade is averaged with the prior two years to produce the "rolling" three-year average. Such a system allows for a more complete and accurate assessment of recent water quality and is designed to better address climate variability from year to year, while allowing for real data trends to be more easily discerned.

"We have a lot of ongoing work to improve water quality in the Mystic and its tributaries, and this report card serves as motivation to continue that work. EPA and our partners are committed to improving water quality for residents of the Mystic Watershed, and while we have seen improvements, we still have a lot of work to do," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "This year we have seen water quality improvements in 10 of the 14 segments of the River, and four of those have had grade improvements. The most significant grade improvement this year is Belle Isle Inlet, which improved from a C to a B in 2015, meeting state water quality standards 77.8% percent of days in 2015 compared to 63.9% in 2014."

"The grade demonstrates the recreational value of the Mystic River and Lakes. These are great places for canoeing and kayaking and we can safely enjoy swimming in the Upper Mystic Lake," said EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, Executive Director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. "The grade also underlines where there is room for improvement."

"The Mystic River Watershed is a valuable natural resource accessible to many Greater Boston communities and its water quality is important, not only for recreational use but for the wildlife found in and around its waters. I am encouraged that we are moving in the right direction along key areas of the Watershed. I thank the Mystic River Watershed Association and the EPA for their commitment to improving water quality standards in the areas where it is still very much needed and protecting this local treasure," stated U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano.

"We are pleased to be part of a valued partnership with municipalities, the Mystic River Watershed Association and the EPA as we work cooperatively on improving water quality in the Mystic River watershed," said Commissioner Martin Suuberg of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Throughout the past year there were continued efforts to improve water quality conditions in the Mystic River watershed. Both EPA and the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) continue to pursue a number of active enforcement actions targeted at improving water quality throughout the watershed. These enforcement efforts have resulted in the removal of over 31,800 gallons per day of sewage from storm drains in the Mystic River Watershed. Numerous additional illicit connections have been identified and are scheduled to be removed this year. A number of additional repairs have been made that have prevented tens of thousands of gallons of sewage from discharging to the river during rain events. These efforts continue to address violations of water quality criteria with regard to bacteria.

Further improvements in water quality are expected as the 2016 Massachusetts Small MS4 General Permit is implemented throughout the watershed. The small MS4 general permit will become effective July 1, 2017, replacing the 2003 small MS4 general permit for MS4 operators within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The conditions in the general permit are established pursuant to Clean Water Act (CWA) section 402(p)(3)(iii) to ensure that pollutant discharges from small MS4s are reduced to the Maximum Extent Practicable (MEP), protect water quality, and satisfy the appropriate requirements of the CWA. Further information on the requirements of the permit related to MEP and water quality may be found in EPA's Response to Comments document: www.epa.gov/region1/npdes/stormwater/MS4_MA.html.

In addition, last year marked the completion of planned construction of projects related to the MWRA Long Term Control Plan under the Boston Harbor Federal Court Order.  Combined Sewer Overflow ("CSO") controls that were completed in the Alewife Brook area last year should begin to have a significant impact on water quality.  The Alewife projects completed to date under the Federal Court Order are predicted to reduce annual CSO volume to Alewife Brook by 85% on average, and reduce the frequency of CSO discharges from six remaining Alewife CSO outfalls from 63 discharge events a year to seven events a year.

In a separate effort from our report card for bacteria, in the summer of 2015 EPA launched a Mystic River water quality monitoring buoy in front of the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse in the City of Somerville. This buoy measures a number of water quality parameters such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, specific conductance, and chlorophyll that can be viewed by the public in near real time. The 2015 data is available on EPA's Mystic River Website. In addition to providing real-time water quality data to the public, the buoy is used to monitor for and track cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) blooms. The buoy will be launched again for the 2016 season in early June.

EPA continues to foster a long-term effort to improve this watershed, including continued support of the Mystic River Watershed Initiative Steering Committee. The Steering Committee includes EPA and MyRWA representatives, as well as representatives from numerous public advocacy groups and municipalities from throughout the Mystic River watershed. The mission of the Steering Committee is to serve as a coordinating and information-sharing body to help establish strategic direction and priorities, as well as to recommend and promote key projects and actions needed to improve environmental conditions in the Mystic River Watershed.

More information on EPA's Mystic River Watershed Initiative (www.epa.gov/mysticriver)