Region 1: EPA New England
History of Human Impacts on Charles River
Urbanization and associated degradation of the Charles River has occurred over a four-hundred year period starting in the early 1600s. EPA and its partners have been working to reverse that degradation since 1995. The improvement in the river's health is an extraordinary accomplishment.
2007 use e coli single sample number of 235 for swimming and a multiplier of 5 (=1175) for boating.
The general standards for the grade at the outset were as follows:
A: always meets standards
The way the numbers have been calculated depends on a gross level on the general descriptors.
The grade is then refined by looking at past years and seeing how the numbers stack up against those.
*Figures represent the percentage of time that state bacterial standards are met.
|Date||Human Activity||Impact on River|
|4000 BC to 1617 AD||Native Americans inhabit watershed||Only known impact is remains of fishing weirs discovered in Back Bay|
|1625||John Blaxton becomes first settler in Boston, building his home near freshwater spring on western flank of Beacon Hill|
|1630||John Winthrop and Massachusetts Bay Colony joins Blaxton; additional springs used for water supply|
|1634||Grist mill dam erected at Watertown, first of 43 industrial mills to be built on lower Charles||Dam changes flow of river, captures sediments, limits fish migration|
|1640||First printing press, public park, public school, college in colonies established on Charles|
|1643||Dam and mill constructed on current Causeway St.||Mill ponds become repositories of industrial waste; 1656 ordinance allows dumping of "beast entralls and garbidg" at North St. w/out fine|
|late 1700s||Boston streets are paved with cobblestones; underground drainage system for gray water created||Paving eliminates recharge of aquifer; springs dry up and become contaminated by privies; private water company brings water into Boston from Jamaica Pond; in 1840 Boston constructs enlarged water supply at lake Cochituate in Natick|
|1790-present||Paving of street surfaces and creation of other impervious surfaces continues; turns an "absorbent" landsurface into a "waterproof" land surface; for example, some residential areas of Cambridge are 73% impervious||Runoff carries away contaminants such as bacteria, phosphorus lead and PCBs degrading river uses, poisoning fish and increasing algal growth; increases flooding; lowers water table in Boston; creating host of problems. Even today, buildings on pilings at risk due to dry rot; see Globe story of Feb. 2004|
|1799||First filling of marshes occurs by lopping of top of Trimountain (now Tremont) to make Charles St.||Filling eliminates natural esturine habitat, limits water available for assimilating wastes|
|1840||Introduction of public water supply spurs develop of internal plumbing for waste; waste is conveyed directly to Charles through pre-existing street drains and through newly constructed common sewers carrying storm and sewer water||Bacteria load to river increases dramatically; waste on exposed mudflats causes stench thought to spread disease (before germ theory of disease, illnesses thought to be spread by odors or "miasma"|
|1855-1880s||738 acres of tidal marsh in Back Bay is filled with material from Boston drumlins and then Needham quarries||Goal was to eliminate stench from poorly flushed tidal flats: results in reduced esturine environment, limits assimililative capacity of basin|
|1878||Construction of first metropolitan sewer creates additional concern over lowered groundwater table; network of groundwater observation wells initiated||Sewer lines begin to drain the groundwater of Boston; in later years, tunnels, subways and increased impervious areas add to problem|
|1879||Boston adopts Olmsted's "Sanitary Improvement of Back Bay; Fens is created by filling 90% of 190 acre section of Back west of Gavelly point. Stony Brook wet weather flow designed to overflow into fens, an artificial marsh with tide gate to keep water elevated; Muddy River diverted to culvert under Brookline Ave to Charles||Riverine habitat of Muddy lost. CSO discharge into fens remains today; constriction of flow causes flooding in lower Muddy, a problem being ameliorated by $100 million Muddy River Restoration project currently underway|
|1884||All of back bay other than portion at entrance of Stony Brook and Muddy River filled. Reduced river area in combination with sewage load from drains raises public health concerns||Sewer interceptors parallel to shore line conveying waste to Moon Island constructed to address sewage discharge to tidal flats and waters; interceptors designed to overspill into surface waters in large storms, creating "combined sewer overflows"|
|late 19th, early 20th century||Stoney Brook, largest tributary to Charles is culverted; many of the other major Charles tributaries, including Fanueil Brook, Village Brook, Tannery Brook and parts of Laundry Brook, are also culverted over time||Project to protect public from sewage disease. Culverting of streams eliminates habitat value; sets up streams as sewer conduits|
|1903||Increasing CSO flows into basin along with burgeoning population leads to creation of committee to examine sewage problem; committee decides upon creation of freshwater basin to flood the flats||See Dam Construction below|
|1908||Dam constructed between Boston and E. Cambridge at the locus of the current Museum of Science. This dam is replaced by New Dam at Boston harbor in 1978;||Intended to alleviate sewage threat by covering tidal flats, dam eliminated esturine environment in total and created a settling basin for suspended sediments in water: results in heavily contaminated bottom sediment; anoxic zone created by salt water intrusion from harbor;also eliminates tidal flushing in river and makes the "fens solution" unworkable as a result|
|early 20 th century||200 acres of marshes in Allston filled to make land for RR yards, Harvard Business School, Harvard athletic fields|
|1978||Dam constructed at mouth of harbor to control flooding and enhance fish passage|
|1988||MWRA creates its CSO program||Lower Charles had 19 CSOs discharging 1.7 billion gallons per year into lower Charles, 150 mgy untreated|
|1995||Clean Charles Initiative Launched|
|1995||EPA issues illicit connection orders to Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Brookline, Needham, Dedham|
|1997||MWRA's Long Term Plan Approved||Plan requires closure of 7 CSOs and reduction of discharges to 162 mgy, 2.3mgy untreated|
|2000||Deer Island Plant and outfall tunnel complete||Greatly expanded capacity and secondary treatment at Deer Island reduces CSO flows to Charles and improves water quality in Boston Harbor. CSO|
|Earth Day 2005||Most Known Elicits Removed
Well over 1MGD of illicits have been removed.
MWRA has completed most of its 1997 CSO control plan
|Under orders issued in the fall of 2004, Waltham, Watertown, Newton and Brookline required to eliminate all known connections by 2005; CSO flows in lower Charles have been reduced by 90%|
|September 2006||Separation of Stoney Brook completed||Stony Brook is the largest remaining source of bacteria to the lower Charles|
|2007||EPA and MassDEP establish TMDL for lower Charles River to reduce levels of phosphorus|
|2013||Projected date of completion of MWRA CSO long-term control plan for Charles River|