What is going on with the Charles?!!

By Dan Smith, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy

Boston’s Charles River just received an A- grade from the EPA. The annual one-mile open-water expert swim sold out again, and for the second year in a row the community swim event was a smashing success. See photos!

This is a stellar turnaround from deplorable conditions that earned the Charles a “D” when yearly grades were first issued almost 20 years ago when the river was being inundated with 1.7 billion gallons of yearly sewer overflows. 

Today the shores of the Charles -- an 80-mile long river that flows into Boston Harbor -- are home to a cavalcade of boat houses, sports fields and performance facilities. Its waters host a plethora of canoeing, paddle boarding, sailing, wind surfing and as noted… swimming!

With water quality data collected by one of the river’s leading advocates, the Charles River Watershed Association, EPA now rates the river swimmable 70 percent of the time.

Just last week a Boston Globe editorial called out the remarkable transformation of the Charles, noting the thriving recreation, and also the diving osprey, herons feasting on shad and herring, and the return of stripers and Atlantic sturgeon. In 2011, the river earned the Thiess International Riverprize for cleanest urban river. The Globe also reported hints from the EPA about creating a swimming beach, a notion that just a quarter century ago, most Bostonians would have considered "a wild fantasy."

Inspired by this comeback story?

Want to learn more and consider what this means for the Anacostia River? 

Guests at the Anacostia Watershed Society’s 25th Anniversary Gala Monday evening, Sept. 22, will meet and hear from one of the architects of the turnaround of the Charles, Tom Sieniewicz, Board of Directors President of the Charles River Watershed Association. ThAssociation has been a leader and catalyst for the Charles since 1965.

Join us next Monday to hear more about this inspiring effort and much more.

The hard work is far from over to restore the Charles. Sediments are still laden with toxic heavy metals and heavy rains still bring sewage overflows that curtail use. Polluted runoff still feeds "blue green" algae blooms that release a health-threatening toxin. Active monitoring and warning systems alert users to these unsafe conditions yet more cleanup is necessary before a safe, permanent location to swim is designated on the lower Charles River, but recreational swimming remains an important goal. Collaborating on how these shared goals are and can be achieved is of great importance in restoring our rivers.




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