Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Phosphorous Next Challenge for the Charles

By Erika Templeton

ALLSTON—The Charles River is running clearer these days as it snakes along Soldier’s Field Road in Lower Allston. A dark blue sheen has replaced the translucent rainbows of oily run-off that once hung at the water’s surface, making ducks’ feet visible once again as they paddle through the waves.

The river is cleaner now than it has been since 1995, when the United States Environmental Agency declared its goal to reduce pollution and make the river swimmable by 2005.

The Charles water met boating standards 100 percent of the time, and was deemed safe for swimmers 63 percent of the time this year, according to the EPA’s evaluations. In In1995, those numbers were 39 and 19 percent, respectively. The improved conditions earned the river a “B++” score this year, up from a “D” in 1995.

The river’s score may be hire, but the clean-up job is far from done.

“It’s still pretty disgusting,” said Beth Stone, 21. “It’s the same story with any river right near a city.” While kayaking down the Charles, Stone said she still noticed bottles and garbage floating on the surface. Below the surface, however, lies a bigger problem that can’t be seen by the naked eye.

On Monday, the EPA announced efforts to control pollution caused by storm water runoff. The runoff carries phosphorous, which has caused high levels of cyanobacteria and other types of blue-green algae in the water. Phosphorous is a nutrient for the toxic algae, whose blooms turn the river a bright shade of blue-green in the summer and can be harmful to swimmers.
"Polluted storm water runoff causes serious water quality problems, and is the next great challenge for cleaning the Charles River," said Robert Varney, the EPA’s New England administrator.

Last October, the EPA established a total maximum daily load for phosphorous in the Charles. Right now, the phosphorous levels are more than double that healthy limit.

The high levels of phosphorous run-off come from commercial and industrial properties with large areas of such as parking lots, rooftops, and roadways. The impermeable surfaces stop rainwater from absorbing safely back into the ground.

Working under the Clean Water Act, the EPA will be extending its regulations to include private land owners with more than two acres of impermeable surfaces, who will now have to operate under permit and reduce their storm water runoff by 65 percent. The permit will only apply to property upstream of the city, in Milford, Franklin, and Bellingham.

By enforcing storm water and sewer improvements, environmental planners hope to redirect water running off of rooftops and parking lots directly into the river, and increase the amount absorbed back into the ground.

Some ways to reduce runoff include building man-made bodies of water, such as ponds and creeks, and using new pavement material that allows water to absorb back into the ground.

“Until now, managing storm water has largely been the responsibility of the cities and towns,” said Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, in an EPA press release. “It is critical now for other property owners to step up to the plate and do their part.”

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