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Boston river water quality

Jul 05, 2023Jul 05, 2023

Sections of the three major rivers flowing into Boston Harbor received poor grades, including Cs and some failing marks, according to new report cards that cite impacts from millions of gallons of dirty sewage and stormwater releases.

There's been "vast overall improvement" for the Charles, Mystic and Neponset rivers compared to past decades, and some other swaths of waterways notched A and B grades in the report cards.

But climate change could hinder that progress -- and disparities in water access and quality are evident in communities of color where residents are low-income and language isolated, according to the report from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Charles River Watershed Association, Mystic Watershed Association and Neponset River Watershed Association.

"Today's report card of water quality in the major urban rivers of Boston and surrounding communities underscores that when communities, governments at all levels, and organizations come together, we can solve long-standing environmental and equity challenges to create healthier rivers," EPA New England Regional Administrator David Cash said in a statement. "But the report also highlights rivers that are polluted especially in underserved and overburdened communities that deserve to enjoy a clean and healthy environment. More work is needed to bring environmental justice to these communities."

Rivers are graded based on the percentage of time that E. coli bacteria concentrations are safe for recreation and precipitation data. For the Charles River, the recreation health score incorporates two additional threats, combined sewer overflow discharges and the presence of cyanobacteria blooms, which can harm people, animals or the environment by taking oxygen and nutrients away from other organisms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rivers and other bodies of water in Massachusetts for years have struggled with deteriorating conditions following heavy rains, which overwhelm systems that handle sewage and also send polluted stormwater runoff into open waters.

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