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Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

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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Making Way for the Head of the Charles!

Posted by Alexandra Flowers

10/21/16 5:37 PM

Head of the Charles

Boston skyline from the BU Bridge during the 2014 Head of the Charles Regatta. Source: Bill Damon | CC BY 2.0

Early on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, CRWA interns and volunteers head out on the Charles River along with many others. As rowers head out to prepare for the world renowned race, The Head of the Charles Regatta, we are preparing to test the quality of the water. As we begin our long journey down the Charles to the Longfellow bridge in a small motor boat (trying to dodge all the rowers along the way), we finally make it to the furthest point of our trek about two hours later. We shut the boat off to prepare sample bottles. We will sample water from the Charles River near four different bridges.

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9 Ways to Combat Cyanobacteria Blooms in the Charles River

Posted by Allie Rowe

10/10/16 3:48 PM

What is cyanobacteria? Why is it a concern?

cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria bloom in a freshwater pond
Source: Christian Fischer | CC BY-SA 3.0

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are microorganisms that obtain their energy through photosynthesis and live in aquatic environments. Cyanobacteria populations can grow rapidly in fresh water, brackish water, or seawater during events known as “blooms.” Blooms often appear as dense green mats floating on or just below the water’s surface. Cyanobacteria blooms can produce toxins that harm humans, dogs, and wildlife. Exposure to these toxins may irritate the eyes, ears, and skin, and can also damage to the liver and nervous system. Emerging science shows a possible link to neurodegenerative diseases and a possibility of exposure through inhalation. Thick mats of cyanobacteria block sunlight and oxygen from entering the water, smothering fish and other aquatic organisms.

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Cyanobacteria Outbreak in Lower Charles River

Posted by Alexandra Ash

8/30/16 4:06 PM

Water samples collected last Thursday confirmed a cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, outbreak in the Charles River Lower Basin downstream of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge.

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Take a Tour of Franklin's Best Rain Gardens

Posted by Elisabeth Cianciola

8/19/16 6:28 PM

Got spare time during your drive across Franklin, MA? Check out these hidden gems that were featured in a town rain garden tour on August 17! The Town of Franklin has built and maintains an impressive 15 rain gardens across town in an effort to help capture rainwater as it flows off of streets, parking lots, and rooftops and filter it through the ground before it reaches the Charles River. These rain gardens make a huge impact keeping the river clean and healthy!

WATCH NOW: Franklin Rain Garden Tour

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2015 Charles River Water Quality

Posted by Alexandra Ash

7/27/16 2:52 PM

Today, the U.S. EPA announced that the lower Charles River scored a B+ for its water quality in 2015. The annual Charles River Report Card focuses on the section of the Charles River downstream of the Watertown Dam and rates its cleanliness based on measured bacteria levels. EPA uses data collected year-round by Charles River Watershed Association's citizen scientist volunteers to assign the water quality grade each year.

CRWA's volunteer monthly monitoring program collects data at 37 sites up and down the river. In addition to bacteria, volunteers monitor water temperature, river depth and other indicators of water quality once a month during every month of the year. Our 2015 Year-End Report details our findings. Below, find some of the key takeaways. 

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Collaboration Toward a Greener Future

Posted by Robert Zimmerman

7/12/16 6:00 AM

By Charles River Watershed Association and Conservation Law Foundation

Since 1949, the Kendall Cogeneration Station, located near Longfellow Bridge and now owned by Veolia, had been withdrawing 77 million gallons of Charles River water to cool its three turbines. Called “once-through” cooling, the water was pumped through a piping network and used to convert the steam that had already given up most of it’s energy to making electricity back to liquid water.  This cooling water did not contact the steam but absorbed heat that was then discharged back to the Charles River from 10-20 degrees warmer than when withdrawn. The daily volume used ( 77 million gallons) is often greater than the flow of the Charles in summer. Since the ambient surface temperature of the Charles can reach 85 degrees in the summer, the added heat upsets the river ecosystem, contributes to algal blooms, and has contributed to fish kills.

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Fish Kill in Lower Charles River Basin

Posted by Elisabeth Cianciola

8/18/15 4:20 PM

While conducting routine water sampling on Wednesday, July 29th, Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) spotted six dead fish between the North Beacon Street bridge in Watertown/Brighton and the Larz Anderson bridge in Cambridge. Since that initial observation, CRWA has received many reports of additional fish kill sightings via our website and social media. We estimate that between 61 and 103 dead fish, reported pimarily as carp and large-mouth bass, have been observed between the Galen Street bridge in Watertown and the Longfellow Bridge in Cambridge/Boston.

 

Fish Kill Map

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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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Boating Safely in the Charles River

Posted by Elisabeth Cianciola

8/4/15 11:12 AM

Thanks to the historic cleanup of the Charles River, it is now safe to boat on the river most of the time. However, on some days the water quality in the Charles River does not meet public health standards for boating, especially after a heavy rain. On those days, although boating is still permissible, some people choose to stay off the water or take extra precautions.

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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.