Blog - Charles River Watershed Association

The Year in Review- Highlights from 2016

Posted by Alexandra Ash

12/14/16 9:59 AM

2016 marked important milestones for the restoration of the Charles River and its watershed: the elimination of heat pollution from the Kendall Power Plant, the daylighting of the Muddy River, and the removal of the hazardous sandbar near Brighton. 2016 also saw the worst drought since the 1960's, persistent stormwater pollution, another cyanobacteria bloom in the Charles River Lower Basin, and the nomination of a new US EPA Administrator who questions climate change. Through it all, CRWA passionately continued our work throughout the watershed developing smart, green water infrastructure, promoting restorative ways to reduce stormwater pollution and flooding, and advocating for strong and effective water policy and regulations. We couldn't have done this work without you—thank you! 

Below are just a few of the highlights from 2016. 


January: Opposed a new power plant in Medway


MedwayConcerned about the environmental impacts of the 200 megawatt Exelon power plant proposed in Medway, CRWA intervened in hearings before the MA Energy Facilities Siting Board. CRWA's General Counsel examined witnesses about the impacts of the plant’s water withdrawals on the river and its tributaries and the opportunities for offsetting these impacts. Although Exelon still does not have an agreement with Millis to sell it water, in November, the Siting Board approved the plant with somebut not enough—environment protections.

February: Convinced DCR to remove a dangerous sandbar


Dredging sandbarCRWA and the boating community’s advocacy and our consultant’s study provided the impetus for the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s removal of the sandbar in the Charles near Brighton. The sandbar, created by sediment carried into the river in stormwater, caused hazardous boating conditions and impacted aquatic life. CRWA continues to fight for improved stormwater management to prevent the sandbar from re-forming.

March: Presented CRWA’s smart, resilient water infrastructure


CWERCCRWA presented our innovative plan for integrated water management and watershed restoration at Foundation for a Green Future’s Water Forum in Boston. The plan includes using  wastewater and food waste to fuel  Community Water and Energy Resource Centers (CWERCs) to recycle treated water and produce thermal and electric energy. An important component of this is restoring natural hydrology in our urban environment.

The Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River opened at the Museum of Science. CRWA consulted with the museum on this permanent exhibit that allows children and adults to explore the river’s natural habitat and the urban environment. 

April: Advised towns on eco-friendly ways to reduce pollution and joined a suit against EPA


Rain GardenCRWA held a workshop for watershed municipal employees highlighting measures they can take to reduce stormwater pollution from entering the Charles River and to comply with US EPA’s new stormwater permit. The symposium showcased green infrastructure practices that not only decrease polluted runoff, but also enhance community open space. Held again in May, the workshops were attended by representatives of every watershed town.

Also in April, CRWA joined Conservation Law Foundation in a suit against US EPA in federal court to control stomwater runoff from industrial, commercial and high density residential properties with large impervious surfaces.

May: Launched green street project in Watertown and celebrated landmark SJC decision


Green Street

Watertown residents joined CRWA and town DPW staff for a tour of Edenfield Avenue, the location selected for a new "green street." Participants discussed street designs using plants and soil to clean polluted rainwater and return it to the ground. CRWA’s green infrastructure design will be installed next spring.

Also in May, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must adopt regulations to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets set in the Global Warming Solutions Act. As a result of this ruling, the Commonwealth will continue to be a leader on climate change.


June: Removed invasive water chestnuts from the Lakes District


Invasive Water Chestnuts

The Department of Conservation and Recreation began its mechanical harvesting program to remove the non-native water chestnut which has disrupted the ecosystem and impeded boating in the Lakes District. Thanks to watershed legislators, the state budget has included funding for this program for several years. Additionally, 240 volunteers pulled 15 tons of water chestnut from the river in Newton and Waltham as part of CRWA's Canoeing for Clean Water program. In all, 24 acres infested with water chestnut were cleared.

July: Tackled drought response inaction and water conservation


Low stream flow

By July, over one-third of Massachusetts was experiencing severe drought, and streamflow in the Charles hit near-record lows. CRWA joined forces with other environmental groups to demand leadership and action by the state to reduce outdoor water use and to revise the state’s inadequate Drought Management Plan. CRWA reached out to the media to publicize the drought's impacts and necessary water conservation, provided educational materials on saving water

indoors and out and pushed for better state-wide water policy. As the drought continues, CRWA is advocating for effective drought indices and actions in the drought plan to make the Commonwealth better prepared and responsive to more frequent droughts in a warming world.

August: Assessed water quality throughout the watershed; Charles receives B+ for water quality


Monthly Monitoring Volunteers

65 volunteers continued to sample water quality at 32 Charles River and tributary sites. Through CRWA's volunteer monthly monitoring program, we have built one of the most robust water quality data sets, measuring bacteria concentrations, water temperature, river depth and other indicators of river health.

U.S. EPA uses our data to grade water quality in the Lower Charles River each year based on measured bacteria levels. This year EPA announced that the Charles River earned a B+ for water quality based on 2015 data.

September: Helped river users stay safe during cyanobacteria outbreak


Sampling water quality

CRWA continued monitoring the cyanobacteria outbreak downstream of the Mass. Ave. bridge that began late August and lasted until early November. CRWA alerted boaters about precautionary measures to take in the Lower Basin due to the cyanobacteria blooms.

CRWA’s water quality notification program forecasts when e. coli concentrations will likely be above safe boating standards using a sophisticated forecasting model based on real time weather data and backed up by frequent water sampling. This program enables us to inform the public in real-time when the Charles River may not be safe for boating. 

October: Heat pollution from the Kendall Power Plant eliminated


Kendall Power Plant

The Kendall Station Power Plant in Cambridge stopped releasing its heated water into the Lower Basin. Instead, the plant, now owned by Veolia, is recycling this water used for cooling into "Green Steam" to heat buildings in Boston and Cambridge. A win-win, following a challenge to the plant’s discharge permit by Conservation Law Foundation and CRWA, the project protects the river’s ecosystem while reducing the use of fossil fuel for heating buildings.

November: Segment of Muddy River daylighted


Muddy River

The first phase of the Muddy River Restoration Projecta comprehensive flood control and environmental restoration project wrapped up. The newly daylighted section of the river provides protection against flooding while increasing wildlife habitat and improving river health. CRWA has worked on this project for many years, continues to serve on the Muddy River Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee and is sampling water quality in the river.

December: Galvanizing for the work ahead 


Children on bridge

With your generous support and the hard work of our volunteers and partners, CRWA has accomplished incredible things this year! Thank you for your commitment to the Charles River. Many environmental challenges lie ahead, but with your support we will move together toward a resilient future and a restored Charles River. Please consider giving a year-end gift today to protect the Charles River


Topics: Fish and Wildlife, Charles River, Volunteer, Stormwater, Green Infrastructure, Pollution, Smart Sewering, Distributed Wastewater, Blue Cities, Water Quality, Low Impact Development, Boating, Recreation

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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.