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Release Date: 10/20/1999
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - As the 1999 Head of the Charles regatta gets underway this weekend, rowers will compete on a Charles River that is cleaner than it's been in decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today. EPA-New England also announced $200,000 in additional projects and investments designed to achieve EPA's goal of a swimmable, fishable river by Earth Day 2005.

The Charles River met boating standards 91 percent of the time through August of 1999, compared to only 39 percent of the time in 1995, according to data collected by the Charles River Watershed Association. The river was swimmable 75 percent of the time in 1999 compared to 19 percent in 1995.

The dramatic improvements are largely due to the extensive work that has been done over the last five years by EPA-New England, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, municipalities and other environmental groups to stop pollution in the lower 10 miles of the river.

"The EPA is delighted to welcome 5,000 world-class rowers to a river that is clean enough for boating almost all the time and clean enough for swimming a great majority of the time," said John P. DeVillars, Administrator for EPA-New England, which is spearheading the Clean Charles 2005 initiative. "We are determined, though, to create a river that is open to boating and swimming all the time. If we all work together to eliminate illegal hook-ups and sewage overflows and to reduce the amount of dirty storm water that flows into the river, this vision will become reality."

The Clean Charles 2005 initiative was launched in 1995 with the goal of making the river fishable and swimmable by Earth Day 2005.

The $200,000 being allocated by EPA at this time will fund:

  • The Center for Watershed Protection (CWP), a nationally renowned urban stormwater group, will help towns and cities design and develop projects that help reduce the amount of stormwater running into the Charles. A grant given to this group last year paid to inventory the lower part of the Charles and identify where significant stormwater improvements could be made. Sites at Fuller Brook in Wellesley, in Watertown and in the Lechmere neighborhood of Cambridge were identified for future work.

    CWP will also develop public education materials on stormwater, one of the most difficult problems facing the Charles since it does not come from one specific pollution source. The materials will help heighten awareness about how citizens can participate in the river's restoration. These materials will be used by EPA in cooperation with the Clean Charles Coalition, a group of 13 major institutions along the Charles, including Harvard, Boston University, MIT and others.

  • An EPA baseline study examining the health of the river at four high-use areas, including Magazine Beach in Cambridge; Storrow Lagoon near the Esplanade; Herter Park in Allston and Daly Field near the MDC skating rink.
  • Exploration of the possibility of floating "filter curtain" to purify water and for potential use in creating safe swimming areas.
  • Harvard School of Design and Rocky Mountain Institute work on "daylighting" projects in Cambridge and Dedham that involve opening up a buried or culverted waterway to improve the look and water quality of the area.
  • A museum exhibit on watershed management that will be developed with other watershed protection advocates.
  • The Watershed Institute, an educational and advocacy group at Boston College, has established a field curriculum focused on the Charles River at 12 high schools in the lower watershed area. In this curriculum, students are tracking the recovery of the river through studies of birds and insects.

    In the next few months, EPA will meet with the nine communities in the lower watershed area to upgrade and implement stormwater management plans that were developed by communities and reviewed by EPA experts and consultants. Plans include storm pipe maintenance, street sweeping and public outreach to insure that water running into the Charles is as clean as possible.

    EPA will also review data that seven communities -- Brookline, Watertown, Cambridge, Newton, Waltham, Needham and Milford -- are collecting to confirm that they have properly eliminated illicit discharges from their sewers into storm drains. If sampling work done by EPA and municipalities show more work is needed, communities will be put on a schedule.