Local Towns Brace for New EPA Regulations on Charles River

New regulations on the Charles River will limit runoff flowing into the water.

charles river

Photo by Lisa Decotis

Do you love that dirty water? Well, local cities and towns do not.

A new slew of regulations aimed at cleaning up the Charles River are expected to cost the cities and towns that feed into the Charles River at least $62 million a year over the next 20 years. Other estimates from the state’s Special Water Infrastructure Finance Commission suggest compliance could cost $18 billion total. The new regulations, as reported by the Boston Globe, will require towns to make it easier for water to drain into the ground instead of flow directly into the river. Municipalities can improve the flow of water into the river by clearing catch basins and installing permeable pavement that allows the water to drain through it.

Some cities and towns are worried that complying with the new regulations will strap them financially because they are being imposed in a short timeframe. Municipal officials said they would prefer if they had a decade to comply with the new regulations. Federal assistance will be available to cities and towns making improvements to comply with the new regulations.

A 2015 lawsuit forced Boston to take similar measures to improve the flow of water into the river, so the city is not subject to the new regulations.

Concerns about phosphorous from runoff was a major driving force behind the new regulations. Phosphorous in every day items such as fertilizer contributes to the growth of dangerous algae blooms in the water, creating the conditions for cyanobacteria that can cause skin irritation and other health problems.

After several starts and stops, a real effort to clean the Charles River began in 1995, and so far, it’s been successful. The Charles River Initiative has reduced the level of sewage discharges into the waterway from 1.7 billion gallons a year in 1988 to just 20 million in 2014. That’s a reduction of 99.5 percent.

In 1995, the river was safe to swim in just 19 percent of the time, but today it is safe to swim in 70 percent of the time. Organized swims along the banks of the Charles River have become a staple of summer in Boston, filling up the moment they’re announced. The river is safe for boating and kayaking all year.

While the river still struggles with water quality issues when it rains heavily because of runoff, it has received high marks from the EPA for its water quality in recent years.