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Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

Margaret VanDeusen

Recent Posts

Proposed changes to NPDES permitting threaten Massachusetts' rivers

Posted by Margaret VanDeusen

3/13/17 5:05 PM

Last week Governor Baker reintroduced a bill opposed by environmentalists last legislative session that would allow Massachusetts to take over the water pollution permitting program from U.S. EPA. Under the federal Clean Water Act, EPA currently regulates discharges of stormwater, wastewater and industrial pollution into our waterways.  The governor’s bill would enable the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) to assume “primacy” for issuing these permits, known as National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits. 

Charles River Watershed Association, the Massachusetts Rivers Alliance and other environmental groups oppose this bill because it will provide no environmental benefit and cost MA taxpayers millions of dollars each year. MassDEP is also already struggling to perform core monitoring, assessment, reporting and research on water quality across the state.  

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Toxic Blue-Green Algae Outbreak Impacting Lower Charles River Basin

Posted by Margaret VanDeusen

8/13/15 11:09 AM

Algae at Weld Boathouse
  Algal bloom at Harvard's Weld Boathouse. Photo by CRWA
 
 
 
Alert issued by MA Department of Public Health
Yesterday, the MA Dept. of Public Health (DPH) received sampling results which confirmed that the Lower Charles River Basin is experiencing an extensive cyanobacteria, or toxic blue-green algae, bloom. Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) scientists responded to reports of “gross, greenish” looking water at the Weld Boathouse, near the Larz Anderson Bridge in Cambridge on Friday, August 7th. Follow up water sampling by CRWA volunteers indicated that concentrations of cyanobacteria cells in the river exceed DPH guidelines for recreational waters. DPH sampling on Monday confirms that cyanobacteria concentrations in the Lower Basin are roughly double the guideline threshold. The bloom is believed to stretch from Weld Boathouse all the way downstream to the New Charles River Dam. Cyanobacteria, which are photosynthetic bacteria, can produce toxins during a bloom in high enough concentrations to harm people, pets and wildlife.

 

 

The malodorous toxins can contribute to minor health impacts such as eye, ear, and skin irritation, or have more severe consequences for humans or their pets ranging from liver and neurological damage to death. People and pets should avoid contact with or ingestion of water with high concentrations of cyanobacteria, and river bank areas where the bacteria have washed up. If contact occurs, individuals should rinse off as soon as possible following exposure. Dogs can become quite ill and even die from contact with cyanobacteria scum. They should be prevented from licking cyanobacteria out of their fur and rinsed off immediately. Inhaling water spray containing cyanobacteria can cause asthma-like symptoms. Because wind and flow patterns can affect the location of the bloom, all recreational users of the Charles River Lower Basin should take precautions. State and local officials will be posting signs along this stretch of the Charles advising river users of the bloom.     

 

Low river levels with elevated water temperatures, hot sunny weather, and high phosphorus concentrations from polluted stormwater runoff provide the ideal environment for rapid growth of cyanobacteria and harmful toxin levels. According to U.S. EPA, the relationship between high phosphorus levels from storm water discharges to the Charles and the proliferation of cyanobacteria is well-established. Studies show that phosphorus, a nutrient which cyanobacteria require to grow, is present in the Charles at more than twice the levels the river can safely handle. This phosphorus, carried into the river by stormwater runoff flowing over impervious surfaces, including roads, parking lots and roofs, and discharged via storm drains, causes cyanobacteria and invasive aquatic plants to grow explosively, smothering and shading other aquatic organisms.

“Until municipalities and owners of large paved surfaces dramatically reduce their phosphorus runoff, these outbreaks will continue to harm the Charles and people’s enjoyment of this tremendous resource,” said Bob Zimmerman, CRWA’s Executive Director. “It is far past time for EPA and MassDEP to issue new stormwater permits to reduce these polluted discharges.”

Cyanobacteria blooms are becoming increasingly common in the Charles River during the summer months. A bloom in early June caused the Charles River Swim Club’s 1-mile race in the Lower Basin near the Memorial Hatch Shell to be postponed until July. Last summer, a toxic cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie shut down the drinking water supply for more than 400,000 Toledo area residents.

For more information contact Julie Wood, Director of Projects or Logan Bailey, Rita Barron Fellow. 

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About Charles River Watershed Association:

One of the country's oldest watershed organizations, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles. Since its earliest days of advocacy, CRWA has figured prominently in major clean-up and watershed protection efforts, working with government officials and citizen groups from 35 Massachusetts watershed towns from Hopkinton to Boston. Initiatives over the last fifty years have dramatically improved the quality of water in the watershed and fundamentally changed approaches to water resource management.