In September, the Charles River won the International Riverprize awarded by the International RiverFoundation (IRF) in Brisbane, Australia. On March 22 at the Charles River Riverprize Celebration Peter Krause, IRF Board member, was on hand to present awards to over 25 CRWA partners in the cleanup of the Charles.
Riverprize Celebration at Cambridge Boat Club, March 22, 2012
Once famous in song as “that dirty water” (the Standells, 1966), the Charles began its turnaround in the 1990s with major efforts to stop sewage from flowing into the river. In those days, especially after heavy rain, the river was too dirty to meet state standards for boating – not to mention for swimming.
Today, thanks to hundreds of partners, countless hours of effort, and the expenditure of millions of public dollars, the Charles is well along the path to rejuvenation. The benefits to the region in economic development, recreation, property values and the environment far outweigh the costs of the cleanup. It also marks the collaboration at all levels of government, and by businesses, universities, environmental organizations and citizens to achieve this remarkable progress.
"Restoring America's rivers, especially in urban areas, has been a priority for the Obama administration and a focus of our efforts to strengthen American communities. The Charles River is a great example of how the health of waters that run through our communities is closely tied to the health of the people and the economies in the area," said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, who attended the event. "We're proud to have worked with so many dedicated people and organizations that have over the years transformed the Charles from one of the dirtiest rivers in America to one of the cleanest, and we're thankful that this work has been recognized by the International RiverFoundation."
“The Charles winning the Riverprize was the thrill of a lifetime and it’s the result of across-the-board collaboration by many with CRWA, said Robert L. Zimmerman, Jr., CRWA’s Executive Director. “We are proud of what’s been accomplished and look forward to making the River even healthier, he said.
Stormwater runoff is now the largest source of pollution to the river, and efforts to “green” the watershed and clean up runoff before it gets into the river are now underway. Nevertheless, winning the International Riverprize shows that the little Charles River – like previous winners the Thames and the Danube – is recognized around the world as a truly great river.
Read an excerpt from CRWA’s 2011 Thiess International Riverprize Entry Form
Challenges and lessons gained in the Charles’ rejuvenation are:
Traditional engineering approaches to water infrastructure invariably result in centralized, big pipe solutions that throw water away, instead of restorative approaches that re-create natural hydrology.
Zoning and land use planning decisions are made by individual towns in Massachusetts, making large-scale change very difficult.
Investment and legislative decisions are often made on election cycles, impeding sensible long-term planning.
Local review boards frequently lack a regional perspective, and their expertise is uneven.
Naysayers will appear at the eleventh hour.
Changing the status quo requires advocacy and education on every level. When you think you are done, go back and educate again. CRWA works closely with partners, serves on boards and committees, lectures widely, attends public meetings, comments on new development projects, hosts workshops and trainings, and authors flyers, newsletters and scholarly articles.
Land use decisions are civic judgments. The social and economic drivers must be well developed, clearly conveyed, and understood to overcome resistance to change.
Build personal relationships with decision-makers and regulators. Personal relationships have made regulators more open to new strategies and bolder steps, and allowed us to take legal action without damaging our ability to work closely with agencies.
Controversy can be a powerful change agent. Controversy can engage the public and force environmental agencies to act. A credible threat of litigation is often a strong catalyst.
Complex river systems require collaboration on every level. No single group or agency could have restored the Charles. Engaging an inclusive group of stakeholders enhances the likelihood of finding common ground and reaching consensus.
After-the-fact environmental remediation is not the solution to today’s ecological impacts. The integrated nature of river systems and the complexity of urban development require that we make fundamental changes in our infrastructure, regulations, and investments so that we move towards sustainability.
Click here to view the Riverprize presentation by CRWA Executive Director, Bob Zimmerman.