To many New England residents, one has only to say “The Charles” to conjure up vivid scenes of what is arguably one of Boston’s premier assets. One of the world’s busiest recreational rivers, the lower Charles suffers pollution from sewer overﬂows, illegal sewer connections, and storm water runoff. The Clean Charles Coalition is a voluntary association of industries, academic and research institutions, public interest groups, and others who have joined together to develop and promote awareness of the Charles River as an urban resource and to create a sense of stewardship and responsibility.
The Clean Charles project relies on the cooperation and commitment of citizens, organizations, and businesses working with federal, state, and local agencies to reach clean water goals. The Charles River Watershed Association ( CRWA) has conducted studies on bacteria, storm water management, and other topics, and they have developed nutrient management and rainwater recycling plans, a predictive model that uses weather data to predict in advance whether the river will meet standards, and a bacterial source tracking method that samples storm water for traces of pharmaceuticals or personal care products
Examples of Key PartnersMA Department of Environmental Protection, CRWA, Friends of the Muddy River, Boston University, Polaroid, Pﬁ zer, Urban Ecology Institute, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Cities/Towns of the lower Charles, Clean Charles Coalition, and others
Results and Accomplishments
The Charles River’s overall health and water quality has improved signiﬁcantly. Today, the lower Charles is lined with marinas, jogging paths, and sports ﬁelds used by thousands of city dwellers each year. This has opened the way for families to once again enjoy recreational activities on the Charles.
- The number of days when water quality meets state bacterial standards has risen from 19 to 54 percent for swimming and 39 to 96 percent for boating in the last ten years.
- Combined sewer ﬂows into the river during heavy rains have been reduced from 1,742 million gallons a year to 182 million gallons a year.
- All storm water discharges were inspected for illegal connections, and removal of dry weather connections is almost complete, eliminating more than 1 million gallons of contaminated ﬂow per day.
- More than 18 miles of leaking sewer lines were replaced in Waltham and Newton.
- The Urban Ecology Institute sponsors a program with 12 high schools to monitor water quality and bird and insect diversity near the river.
- Next high priority steps include separating additional storm water and sewer lines, addressing illicit discharges and monitoring in several area cities, and improving storm water management.