Bostonians love that dirty water, but reports show that the Charles River, once known for its high level of pollution, is cleaner than ever and may be safe enough for swimming in future – though many remain skeptical of its sanitation.
The Charles River Conservancy advocates a safer and more swimmable Charles through restoration of the river and surrounding areas. The group is pleased with the developments along the Charles in recent years.
‘The water quality is much improved,’ Conservancy Swimmable Charles division Coordinator Karen Patterson Greene said.
Patterson Greene said she credits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ‘Clean Charles River Initiative’ with inciting improvements along the Charles. When the initiative was launched in 1995, the Charles’ water quality received a ‘D’ grade, which prohibits swimming in the water. But today, she said, it regularly earns a ‘B+.’
Although water quality has improved, she said there are still more improvements to be made before public swimming is allowed.
‘The water quality meets swimming standards most days of the year,’ Patterson Greene said. ‘However, that does not mean that the river is now swimmable to the general public.’
Currently there are no public access points for people to enter the Charles. But a commission established by Massachusetts legislature to study the safety and feasibility of swimming in the Charles could reinstate public access points in the future, Patterson Greene said. The commission was established in June 2008, but Governor Deval Patrick has yet to appoint members to it.
The main safety concern with swimming in the Charles River is the sediments at the
river’s bottom.’ Patterson Greene said while the water in the river may be clean, the sediments often are not.
‘The sediment on the river bottom is very polluted and will remain so because it would be too expensive to dredge the entire river,’ she said.
The Conservancy is working to design a way for swimmers to enter the water while avoiding contact with the polluted sentiment.’ Patterson Greene said swimmers would enter ‘where the water is deep, so entry would be from some sort of dock as opposed to a beach where people would wade in.’
Conservancy Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator John Broderick said he hopes their environmental endeavors will benefit all who live around the Charles.
‘It is my opinion that a swimmable river would be a landmark for the city and its residents,’ he said.
Boston University students expressed varying opinions on the issue.
School of Management senior Catherine Badillo said she is glad BU has a body of water nearby.
‘It’s nice scenery and it provides a lot of recreation for the schools around us, like crew, sailing, etc.,’ Badillo said. ‘I would never swim it, but I think it’s relatively clean compared to other bodies of water.’
College of Art and Sciences junior Lauren Dobbs said she doesn’t think the Charles River is too dirty.
‘I’m from Cleveland and our river caught on fire because it was so polluted,’ Dobbs said. ‘So in comparison, not too bad.’
Dobbs also said she wouldn’t worry about swimming in the river.
‘I don’t swim a lot, but if someone pushed me in, I wouldn’t think I’d grow a third arm or something,’ Dobbs said. ‘I wouldn’t mind.’