Why would you want to swim in the Charles River? (Editorial)


(Editorial submitted to the Boston Globe, August 2nd, 2016)

Why would you want to swim in the Charles River?


A lot of reasons.  First, it’s a beautiful urban waterway that deserves to be a recreational asset in every possible way for the people who live near it, or can visit.  Just like the Boston Harbor beaches, also brought back virtually from the dead to Boston’s huge benefit.


Second, because people have swum in the Charles River for centuries, and even the Eliot-Olmsted plan a hundred years ago to re-capture its legacy provided for swimming beaches for the public’s enjoyment.  Time to finally achieve the full sum of that legacy plan.


Third, because Gov. Bill Weld and Sen. Bob Durand in 1996 caught and foresaw the spirit of what it was all about when they dove together into the river to celebrate the progress of the clean-up of the Charles River.   From that time to this billions of dollars of investment have been made — just like for salt water Boson Harbor itself — and should equally return the dividends of carrying Boston into its proper place as a leading environmental and sustainable city of the world.  If you live in any Boston or Cambridge neighborhood where your streets have been dug up for weeks and months fixing the old combined sewers that caused so much of the Charles River pollution in the first place, you should know and celebrate that all that trouble was so people could swim in a clean Charles River.  Clean it, and they will come!


Fourth, because — of course.  So many others and I, too, have.  For me, enough embarassing capsizes into the Charles not to want to count them, sailing on the Basin as a happy member of Community Boating on the Esplanade.  I’ve done it and I believe!


Fifth, because it is clean enough to support swimming and getting cleaner all the time.  And it’s the focal venue for the Head of the Charles Regatta — one of the world’s great water festivals.  Even here in water-rich Seattle, where I now live, the Head of the Charles rivals the Boston Marathon as an icon of Boston (and Cambridge)..  Would anybody in Boston actually take a snarky view of whether it should be okay to run on Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street?


Swimming in the Charles River.  Go for it.  Why else has it always been there in the first place.  And why have people spent so much time, energy and passion on recovering this precious asset for everyone’s use and enjoyment.  Right in the water itself.


Doug MacDonald

Executive Director (1992 – 2001)

Mass. Water Resources Authority

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