Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

Upcoming federal regulations will help protect the Charles River

Posted by Alexandra Ash

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2/23/16 10:03 AM

A recent article in the Boston Globe "US set to force cleanup of river" describes the new stormwater general permit that the U.S. EPA will be issuing next month. The MS4 (Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit will regulate the stormwater that towns and cities discharge to the Charles River and to water bodies throughout the state. Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) has advocated for this overdue permit, which should have been issued in 2008 and which has already gone through two public comment periods. 



 A CRWA intern tesst water quality to determine the impacts of invasive water chestnuts on the Charles River. 

The new MS4 permit will limit the discharge of phosphorus - a nutrient abundant in stormwater runoff - to the Charles River. High concentrations of phosphorus, currently discharged to the Charles River, contribute to growth of invasive aquatic plants and toxic cyanobacteria blooms, which harm water quality, degrade wildlife habitat, and limit recreational opportunities. Exposure to the toxins produced by cyanobacteria can cause eye, ear, and skin irritation in humans and pets and emerging science shows a possible link to neurodegenerative diseases.

One way towns can comply with the new regulations is to install blue-green infrastructure including rain gardens and constructed wetlands that will filter out phosphorous and other pollutants. Blue-green infrastructure has added benefits as well - decreasing vulnerability to flooding and increasing resiliency to droughts while beautifying neighborhoods and adding public green space. The permit will require each Charles River community to develop a phosphorus control plan to reduce the phosphorus entering the town’s storm drains and discharging to the river. CRWA is concerned, however, that the 20 year timeframe in the permit for achieving these reductions is too long. 

This spring, CRWA is holding two workshops funded by the Foundation for Metrowest for Charles River municipalities to provide information on green infrastructure, development of phosphorus control plans and MS4 permit compliance to reduce stormwater pollution to river. As the MS4 permit goes into effect, CRWA will work with cities and towns to help them comply with the new permit in ways that not only protect the Charles River, but also benefit the towns.

This MS4 permit is necessary to protect the rivers and lakes of Massachusetts.


Topics: Charles River, Stormwater, Stormwater Management, Green Infrastructure, Pollution, Smart Sewering, Blue Cities, MS4 Permit

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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.