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Home > Charles River Watershed



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What is a Watershed?

Facts about the Charles River Watershed
Trivia and fun facts about the river and area.

GIS Online Mapping
Learn about computer mapping, look at maps of various features of the watershed, and try making your own maps.

Charles River History

A brief history of the river, from pre-industrial times to the present day.

Charles River Issues
Learn about some of the problems that impact the Charles today.

Recreation on the Charles
Information about canoeing, kayaking, running and boating on the river.

Watershed Resources and Links
View conservation tips, river-related media, and shop at CRWA's online store.

Charles River Watershed Facts

  • The Charles River is 80 miles long and flows directly through 23 towns and cities in eastern Massachusetts, beginning at Echo Lake in Hopkinton and ending in the Boston Harbor.

  • The Charles River drains an area 308 square miles (its watershed).  A watershed is the area that drains into a river, lake or harbor.

  • 35 towns and cities comprise the Charles River watershed.

  • The Charles River has 20 dams along its length.

  • Today’s Lower Basin of the river was created when a dam was built in 1910 where the Museum of Science is today.  This dam eliminated the mud flats and marsh land surrounding the Charles and stabilized water flow.  Locks at this dam are an important barrier to salt water intrusion from the ocean.

  • The Charles River drops approximately 350 feet as it travels to the sea.

  • There are 20 species of fish found in the Charles River, including two species of River Herring - Alewife and Blueback Herring - that are anadromous, or migratory, and swim upriver from the sea to spawn (lay eggs) each spring. These fish must climb a series of fish ladders set up at each of the lower five dams on the river.

  • The Charles River watershed is the most densely populated watershed in New England.

  • More than 8,000 acres of wetlands in the Charles River Watershed have been protected forever from development as part of the Natural Valley Storage Project undertaken by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1974.

  • The Esplanade, part of the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation's Charles River Reservation, hosts more visitors than any other riverfront park in the nation.

  • A variety of boats can be seen on the Charles River: power boats, sailboats, sculls and other rowing shells, wind surfers, canoes, kayaks, peddle-powered boats, solar-powered boats, boats made of recycled materials, rafts, and inner tubes.