The Charles River Goes from Toxic Stream to Award-Winningly Clean

  • By Pin-Yu Chen, Beacon Hill Times

The Charles River, once considered an open sewer, has turned around to such a degree that the group largely responsible for its clean-up just won the largest environmental prize in the world.

The Charles River Watershed Association bested projects from more than 20 countries to snag the 2011 International Riverprize, the prestigious environmental award for maintenance and sustainable implementation in river management, in Brisbane, Australia, Sept. 27.

Along with the award came a cash check for $250,000 and a $100,000 grant to share its river restoration expertise with a river organization in another country.

“The CRWA will use the prize money to invest in our major programs: Blue Cities and Blue Cities Exchange, dealing with remediating the impacts of storm water, smart sewering, and our monitoring and computer modeling work,” said Robert L. Zimmerman Jr., the CRWA’s executive director.

The Charles River was once notorious for its high level of pollutants but is today safe for boating 90 percent of the time, largely thanks to the efforts of the CRWA in 1965. The group cooperates with government agencies and citizen groups to protect, preserve and enhance the Charles River and its watershed.

“The association is the catalyst behind every major development concerning the Charles and its restoration,” Zimmerman said.page1image14488

The river is now heralded as the cleanest urban river in the United States by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the association.

“The river’s renaissance is due to the hard work and dedication of organizations such as the Charles River Watershed Association, in partnership with federal, state and city agencies, and it is gratifying to see that success recognized by this prestigious international competition,” Gov. Deval Patrick is quoted as saying on the CRWA website.

The Riverprize also means a lot to Beacon Hill residents. “Probably the most important thing is that it helps CRWA continue to do the research and develop the solutions that will improve and restore the river, even in Boston, right out Beacon Hill’s front door,” Zimmerman said.

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