Dry riverbed, Charles River downstream of Cochrane Dam, Needham-Dover line. Photo by Nick King
CRWA’s Volunteer Monthly Monitoring (VMM) program provides data that can be used to better understand the health of the Charles River and its tributaries. In addition to providing the public with an easily-accessible picture of the health of the Charles through EPA's annual Charles River Report Card, the data collected also enable CRWA to identify problem areas so that remediation efforts can be focused more efficiently.
The 2016 data suggest that, although the Clean Charles Initiative has helped improve water quality over the past 20 years, the river remains impaired in many ways. On average, bacteria levels have increased. E. coli levels in 2016 were similar to those found in 2005, over a decade ago. Nutrients in the river such as nitrogen and phosphorus regularly exceed acceptable levels, and, coupled with rising water temperatures, resulted in large, sustained cyanobacteria blooms in the Charles River. The extreme drought that plagued eastern Massachusetts resulted in record low river depth and flows. At some sampling sites immediately upstream of dams, water was stagnant, warm, and evaporating quickly in summer months, causing increased concentrations of pollutants. Downstream of these dams, lack of flow resulted in dry riverbeds or a scattering of small puddles. Several streams that are tributary to the Charles River dried up completely.
These results from the 2016 VMM program highlight the need for responsible drought management at the state level, as well as stormwater management by municipalities throughout the watershed. Continued commitment from CRWA staff and volunteers, as well as collaboration with Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Recreation, and U.S. EPA will ensure that water quality in the Charles continues to improve for recreation, public health, and wildlife for years to come.