Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

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the steam but absorbed heat that was then discharged back to the Charles River from 10-20 degrees warmer than when withdrawn.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.


5 Methods Used by CRWA to Monitor the Charles River

Posted by Julie Dyer Wood

9/18/14 10:08 AM

The Charles, like any natural environment, is a complex, interconnected, living, changing system. At CRWA, our work is guided by the philosophy that we cannot address and manage problems in the Charles without understanding them. Collecting and analyzing our own data is a critical piece of this process and the backbone of CRWA’s advocacy and design work. Whether monitoring is conducted by staff, interns or volunteers, everyone follows strict monitoring protocols to ensure we collect the most accurate data available. In celebration of World Water Monitoring Day, read on to learn more about five ways CRWA monitors the Charles every day. 

READ: CRWA's Volunteer Monitoring Program 2013 Final Report

  1. Basic Physical Parameters – Every month, CRWA volunteers collect temperature and depth readings at 35 sites along the Charles, and these relatively simple parameters can tell us a lot about the river. Temperature (pictured top right) is very important for biological processes and can indicate pollution sources or unusual conditions. Depth helps us track the relative river flow across the seasons and over the years. CRWA has been monitoring these parameters since 1995, building the most comprehensive dataset available on the Charles River

  2. Sample Collection and Analysis – CRWA volunteers and staff regularly collect water samples, which are then taken to external laboratories for analysis. CRWA collects samples for bacteria all along the river on a monthly basis throughout the year and on a weekly basis in the Lower Basin (downstream from Watertown Dam) during the summer and fall, as part of our summertime Water Quality Notification Program. E.coli bacteria concentrations indicate whether sewage is likely present in the river. Four times a year, volunteers also collect samples which are analyzed for nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), total suspended solids, and chlorophyll a. 

  3. Biological Monitoring – A new addition to CRWA’s field science program in 2013, benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring helps characterize the general ecosystem health of a stream section. This sampling methodology is limited to wadeable sections of streams and rivers and involves the collection and identification of small bugs and other organisms living in the stream sediment and vegetation. By inventorying these critters, which have varying abilities to tolerate pollution (highly sensitive to very tolerant); we can learn a great deal about the water quality. Unlike fish, these organisms cannot move out of degraded areas, therefore a river stretch with only highly pollutant tolerant organisms likely has very poor water quality. 

  4. Hotspot / Investigative / Response Monitoring – CRWA also regularly monitors the river in response to possible pollution sources. This may involve follow up sampling after a high result from one of our regular monitoring sites, pipe or outflow monitoring, or just responding to the scene of a reported issue and conducting a visual survey or “sniff” test.  

  5. Cyanobacteria Monitoring – A relatively recent issue in the Charles, cyanobactera (a.k.a. blue-green algae) can pose a threat to humans and other mammals when they are present in large concentrations or “blooms”. Cyanobacteria produce cyanotoxins which can cause minor to serious reactions in humans and can be fatal to dogs that drink the water. Summertime blooms have become relatively common in the Charles River Lower Basin. CRWA uses an optical probe (pictured bottom right) to look for pigments unique to cyanobacteria and also collects samples which are viewed under a microscope so species can be identified and counted. CRWA also works with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and surrounding communities to notify the public in the event of a bloom.  

For more information on CRWA's monitoring methods, download this brief summary of CRWA‘s 2013 Volunteer Monitoring Program Annual Data Report to learn more about river quality in 2013.

Want to get involved in protecting the health of the Charles River? Become a CRWA Citizen Scientist and help us monitor water quality! To start, please fill out CRWA's below volunteer application form today:

Help Protect the Charles by Becoming a CRWA Citizen Scientist Today!



Kendall Plant to Eliminate Thermal Pollution in the Charles River

Posted by Amy Rothe

6/19/14 5:02 PM

Kendall_plant_300x200pxOn May 20, 2014, an important component of Charles River Watershed Association’s (CRWA) and Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) settlement of the GenOn Kendall Cogeneration Plant’s (now owned by Veolia North America) Clean Water Act discharge permit became a reality. In a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Museum of Science, Veolia commemorated its “Green Steam” project, which includes the completion of a 7,000-foot steam pipeline extension from its Cambridge plant to Boston, and a planned reconfiguration of the combined heat and power plant. The pipeline connection and the planned reconfiguration will eliminate thermal discharge of heated water from the plant into the Charles. Previously, the plant discharged approximately 70 million gallons of heated water into the Charles daily, a volume often equal to the entire flow of the river during summer months.

CRWA and CLF began negotiations with the plant about the heated discharge in 1998, when then-owner Southern Energy upgraded the Kendall Square Station. CLF and CRWA argued that the plant’s discharge of heated water into Charles not only destroyed aquatic habitat, fish and other wildlife, but was also partly responsible for toxic algal blooms in the Charles River Lower Basin. It took CRWA and CLF over a decade of negotiations with first Southern Energy, followed by successive companies Mirant and GenOn, for the plant to develop a co-generation plan that ended the heated water discharge to the river. During this time, CRWA worked closely with GenOn’s Shawn Konary, who was the plant representative responsible for the new technology.

“Veolia is to be commended for the construction of the new pipe that carries the steam into Boston,” said Bob Zimmerman, CRWA’s Executive Director. “This is an innovative, energy-generating, and river friendly solution that should serve as a model for other cities.”

In addition to minimizing environmental impacts to the Charles River, Veolia’s plan to now capture and reuse heat will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the cities of Boston and Cambridge. For more information on Veolia’s “Green Steam” project, visit their website or read the company's recent press release.


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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.