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Mystic River Earns 'C-' on Water Quality Report Card
BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 11, 2009 (ENS) - In each of the past two years, the Mystic River watershed has received a grade of 'D' from the U.S. EPA, but this year EPA announces a grade of a 'C-' for the watershed, "with cautious optimism." The grade is based on bacterial contamination.

When assessing water quality to assign a grade to the Mystic River Watershed, EPA uses similar criteria as for the Charles River Initiative. A 'C' grade of any kind means the water quality in the river meets swimming standards some of the time, and boating standards most of the time.

The grade for the Mystic River Watershed indicates that over the past year, water quality met swimming standards 59 percent of the time and boating standards 90 percent of the time.

"This year's Mystic River Report Card grade is a testament to the success of the strong partnerships forged between local citizens all the way up through federal government," said Stephen Perkins, acting deputy regional administrator of EPA's New England office.

The Mystic River flows between Charlestown and Chelsea, spanned by the Maurice J. Tobin Memorial Bridge. (Photo by Michael Femia)

The Mystic River flows from the Mystic Lakes in Winchester and Arlington through Medford, Somerville, Everett, Charlestown and Chelsea to Boston Harbor. The Mystic River Watershed encompasses more than 76 square miles, 22 towns and cities and supports the lives and well-being of more than 500,000 residents.

A "C- is a substantial improvement from years past, but there is still much work to be done," Perkins said. "By pulling together, we hope to make the Mystic River Watershed one of the most beautiful, most usable and most valued watersheds in the country."

"The Mystic River Watershed is not only a tremendous industrial and commercial center for our state, but also a critical environmental resource. This river system supports a broad range of uses, from drinking water sources to extensive recreational uses," said Lucy Edmondson, MassDEP's deputy commissioner for policy and planning.

Since 2005, EPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, MassDEP, have worked identify and remove numerous suspected sources of pollution to the watershed. In 2008, EPA collected and analyzed over 600 samples at more than 90 locations in the watershed.

In addition, sampling was conducted by the Mystic River Watershed Association, and MassDEP. The objective is to improve water quality on the Mystic River and its tributary streams, restoring the watershed to fishable and swimmable conditions based on measurable water quality standards.

"Over the last decade, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has completed a number of projects to control combined sewer overflows within the Mystic River Watershed," said MWRA executive director Frederick Laskey. "We are currently working on two projects in East Boston to increase sewer capacity in wet weather and further minimize combined sewer overflows to Chelsea Creek."

"Progress is always good news and shows that our combined efforts are making a difference," said Chelsea Town Manager Jay Ash. "While I'm happy to celebrate the work that has gotten us here, I'm equally anxious to further that work so that the progress cited on today's report does not represent our final grade on this very important subject."

While the grade and sampling efforts have been focused on bacterial water quality, there are significant benefits to fixing the sources of these problems, federal, state and local officials agree.

They say eliminating sewage removes a significant amount of nutrients to the watershed such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Identifying and removing illicit sources of sewage to the watershed translates into significant long term improvement in the overall health of the watershed.

Last year in April, EPA New England hosted the Mystic River Watershed Summit in Boston. Over 170 people attended the summit and decided to implement short-term and long-term water quality goals that will be established in 2009.

Towards this end, the first Mystic River Watershed Steering Committee meeting was held March 11 and a second meeting is set for May 20 in Winchester.

"Working with Chelsea Greenspace, the Woburn Residential Environmental Network, with the professional staff at US EPA New England and many, many other environmental advocacy groups we are determined to achieve a restoration of environmental conditions in the Mystic River Watershed to a healthy state," said Ekongkar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association. "The results of this year's EPA Report Card provide encouragement that we are moving in the right direction."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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