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The Charles River Receives Grades "A" to "D-" for 2019
Since 1995, U.S. EPA has graded the Charles River on progress toward meeting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ bacterial water quality standards for swimming and boating. EPA has always relied on CRWA’s data to formulate the grade, but we are changing things up for the first time in 25 years with a new grading system. Until now EPA has only graded one section of the river: the “Lower Basin,” Watertown to Boston. EPA also only relied on E. coli bacteria counts. 

Now, the grade encompasses all 80 miles of the river, plus two tributaries (see graphics below), and includes more pollutants. In addition to E. coli bacteria, the river is also being graded on cyanobacteria (toxic blue-green algae) blooms and combined sewer overflows (CSOs), which are both public health hazards, especially for boaters and anyone who comes into contact with the water. Read our press release and FAQ.
Please note, even “A” grade stretches of the river do not mean an entirely clean bill of health. The grading system continues to focus on recreation, only including what you need to know before coming into contact with the river through kayaking or canoeing. The river continues to suffer from the dozens of outdated dams impeding water flow and fish migration; stormwater pollution causing cyanobacteria blooms as well as invasive and nuisance vegetation; polluted sediment existing in the river bottom and along the river banks; water withdrawals causing dangerously low water levels in some areas of the river, especially during droughts (like we saw this summer and fall); and climate change stressing the river with drought, warmer temperatures, heavier rains, and storms. We are actively addressing these issues as we work toward a fully restored Charles River.
News at a Glance
  • Today is the last day to double your impact! A group of anonymous donors is matching every gift, dollar for dollar, up to $25,000. We are so incredibly grateful for the generous support we’ve received already. It’s been heartwarming to end a hard year on a positive note and hear about how much the Charles means to each of you.

  • The Town of Milford, like many in the watershed, is facing many environmental challenges, including high demand for groundwater, low river flows in the headwater section of the Charles, stormwater pollution, and climate change. We partnered with the Town in 2018 to develop a subwatershed restoration plan, which was highlighted in the January issue of the River Current this year. The plan has been finalized and we look forward to seeing two rain gardens and one infiltration system constructed.

  • Adapting to the impacts of climate change is a daunting task, but many local cities and towns are already taking steps to do so. Having the best possible information on the impacts of climate change locally is critical to guiding local investment and regulatory changes. The fifteen communities that are part of the Charles River Climate Compact (CRCC) have teamed up to develop a Charles River watershed flood model. To learn more join us for a webinar on Building Resilience Across the Watershed on January 21, 2020, at 7:00 pm or visit our website.

  • EPA finalized its new permit requirements for the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4). These stronger stormwater protections are the result of a settlement with CRWA and Conservation Law Foundation. Learn more.

  • You can now subscribe to City of Cambridge CSO alerts to be notified when sewage enters the Charles River or Alewife Brook. 

  • CRWA Executive Director Emily Norton was invited to speak to the MA Green Recovery Task Force last week, where she urged more financial investment in clean energy, climate resilience, and programs to help disadvantaged young people access good careers in water, wastewater, and stormwater management. Read her comments here.

  • The Baker-Polito Administration awarded $300,000 in grants to five multi-community stormwater coalitions across the state to help local cities and towns meet stormwater management requirements; we’re excited to announce that we are one of the recipients! We are grateful for the state’s leadership on this issue, as stormwater is the #1 pollutant to the Charles River and worsens toxic cyanobacteria blooms, invasive plant overgrowth, and habitat and recreation conditions. Learn more.

  • The cyanobacteria bloom advisory put into effect on June 24 for the Charles River between the Mass Ave Bridge and New Charles River Dam was finally rescinded, one week short of 6 months later. This bloom persisted well into the winter months, one of many impacts we saw on the river this year from drought and climate change. Learn more.

  • Drought conditions are gradually improving and the Commonwealth is down to Level 1 Drought status. Water conservation is still needed, but the river and surrounding land are starting to recover. Learn more.

  • How many pet photobombs did we have on Zoom this year? How many minutes did we spend on Zoom this year? (Hint: Too many!) Learn more in our Year on Zoom.
Get Involved
  • We’re hiring! Our Rita Barron Fellowship is named in honor of CRWA’s second Executive Director, who was a pioneering leader in river and watershed protection. The Fellowship provides an opportunity for a qualified candidate to work in an exciting organization under the direction of some of the country’s leading water resources scientists and advocates. Learn more and apply now.

  • Interested in getting involved with one of the oldest and largest volunteer water sampling programs in the country? Learn more about our Volunteer Monthly Monitoring program from a short video and apply online.

  • Look good and stay warm in new CRWA apparel long sleeves and sweaters.

Intern Spotlight
From left to right: Shea Burke, Madeline Gorchels, and Xinyi Zeng.
It’s that time again when we have to say farewell to our Fall Interns, who have helped CRWA run smoothly! We’re sad to see them go, but wish them all the best in their future pursuits. 

“Working in water quality was a path that I had been interested in pursuing for a career, but I was unsure if I would actually enjoy doing the work because my only experience with the topic was in the classroom setting. This internship really reinforced the fact that I am on the right track with my major because now I know that I really like working in the environmental field.”

Shea Burke championed the Flagging Program during her time with us. She conducted weekly water sampling, processed results, analyzed data, updated the manual model, and wrote the Program Report for 2020. She also provided support for the Volunteer Monthly Monitor program, monitoring cyanobacteria blooms, and more.

“Having just finished my Masters project on green infrastructure, I found it extremely interesting to hear how these projects are being implemented in Boston and the real-life challenges they face.”

Madeline E. Gorchels provided invaluable support in her time with CRWA, making ArcMaps and commenting at I-90 Allston Intermodal meetings, co-authoring the Green Streets Guidance document for our stormwater infrastructure project with the Town of Natick, creating a model to calculate metrics for wetland protection for the new Boston wetland ordinance, and more.

“I enjoyed learning how an environmental nonprofit connects with local communities and governing bodies and the ways it can make an actual impact towards better management of the watershed.”

Xinyi Zeng finished her GIS internship with us this fall, where she learned new skills and further mastered others. Her work included preparing historical context and maps for an Eagle Dam removal report, providing crucial support for a workshop on the BATT tool, and creating maps of urban heat island, tree canopy, and anticipated flooding for the I-90 Allston Intermodal project.

Julia Hopkins used her expertise to help expand our data communications and learn more about environmental science. She created branding for our ArcGIS maps, designed plaques for our pollinator garden, and produced infographics to break down the new grading system for the Charles River Report Card.
Upcoming Events
  • From all of us at CRWA, have a Happy (and safe) New Year!

  • Most events have been made virtual for the time being. As a science-based organization, we encourage you to continue following CDC recommendations, like wearing a mask, maintaining a safe social distance from others, and celebrating the holidays within your own household. We wish you and your family continued health during these difficult times.
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