Charles River May See Storm Water Improvements

Massachusetts’ Charles River may see improvements after years of industrial and commercial water pollution. 


The Charles River, which has seen toxic algae blooms almost every summer in recent years, is being considered by the U.S. EPA for storm water improvements. 

“The U.S. EPA’s New England Region (EPA Region 1) is beginning to evaluate whether a new program is needed to control storm water pollution from certain commercial, industrial, and institutional sources in the Charles River watershed at sites that are not currently covered by any existing federal or state storm water permit,” said the EPA news release.

According to the EPA, if the agency finds it necessary, certain commercial, industrial, and institutional properties in the Charles River watershed would be subject to new federal Clean Water Act storm water permits, reported WBUR.

Some privately-owned sources of pollution have been left unregulated, according to WBUR.

The EPA is launching discussions in response to a petition from the Charles River Watershed Association and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). The two groups petitioned the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to limit storm runoff into the Charles. 

Monitoring and preventing storm water pollution currently falls upon municipalities.

“To initiate our engagement with you, we plan to host several virtual information sessions in late summer/early fall 2020 and will make them as accessible and user-friendly as possible,” added the EPA. “We will send follow-up information about the dates, times, and agendas for the sessions so we can share our thinking and to begin to answer your questions.” 

The EPA has not yet made a decision about whether to move forward with a permitting program, according to Ken Moraff, director of the Water Division at EPA Region 1. Moraff adds that the EPA wants to get the views of all the stakeholders, including the owners of these properties, including environmental groups, including the cities and towns in the watershed who are all working really hard to reduce phosphorus from their own systems.”

“The town is essentially responsible for all the rainwater runoff that occurs in their town, whether it falls on private property or public property,” said Julie Wood, deputy director of the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA). 

In most cities and towns along the Charles River, the majority of the land area is privately-owned, not public. 

In a 2007 study, the MassDEP and the EPA found that high-density residential, commercial and industrial properties made up just 20% of the land cover in the lower Charles River Basin, producing nearly half the phosphorus pollution.

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