The Mystic River Report Card was good news for Chelsea and Everett, with both communities being highlighted last Thursday in an online unveiling of the progress made on the Island End River bacteria counts.
For the first time, ever the problem-prone Island End received a ‘B’ grade after having ‘F’s for many years in the past. The annual Mystic River Report Card is a partnership between the Mystic River Watershed Council (MyRWC) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) New England. It measures bacteria counts throughout the year in the Upper Mystic (freshwater), Lower Mystic (saltwater) and all of the tributaries such as the Chelsea Creek, Mill Creek and Island End River in Chelsea.
This year’s report was an outstanding success for those communities on the Lower end like Everett, Chelsea and Charlestown – who had received failing grades for many years and now host some of the cleanest waterways in regards to bacteria counts in Greater Boston. It is the 13th year that the partnership has announced a ‘Report Card,’ and the grade for each waterway is a composite of thousands of samples taken over one year.
“I am pleased to announce the Island End River has hit a remarkable milestone,” said EPA Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. “Island End River had been receiving an ‘F’ for several years in a row. Through the great work by Everett and Chelsea, the Island End River has received a ‘B’ for the first time. That work doesn’t stop and Everett and Chelsea will continue to work on projects that will impact water quality…That work has value and will make a difference in the future to everyone who uses or recreates in this watershed.”
Said MyRWA Scientist Andy Hrycyna, “Measuring is important and you measure what is important. It’s important to measure the progress and to look ahead. Forgotten in the effort are other important words and they are collaboration and partnership.”
While the more suburban areas of the watershed, such as in Arlington and further up are rife with pollution and bad grades on the report, those in the urban areas like Everett and Chelsea have steadily improved precisely because of that collaboration.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said they have been working closely with Chelsea, the MWRA and the MyRWA for some time to stop illicit sewer hookups and Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), which are very time-consuming and expensive to fix, but something both communities have done well to help the waterways.
In Everett, DeMaria has made the long-forgotten Everett waterfront a major priority of his administration for several years. One thing they are currently doing on the Island End River that will further improve it is daylighting the stream by the Boston Market Terminal, and the new owner of the terminal has plans to fix the culvert for the River under that property. Chelsea is working close to put in new drainage on their side as well, he said.
“Our goal is to have active recreation all along the waterfront – not only the Mystic and Malden Rivers, but also down there at the Island End,” he said. “I’m excited by this report today. People might think this wouldn’t excite me, but having a clean waterfront is extremely exciting to me. I’m committed.”
Chelsea City Manager Tom Ambrosino, and Hrycyna, pointed out the Island End had been at a failure rating consistently for years, but something major changed in 2018. That, Hrycyna said, was reflected in the analyzation of bacteria counts year over year.
“In 2018, something happened here that is reflected in our bacteria sample data,” said Hrycyna. “The values can be seen going down suddenly in 2018. We think we know why.”
Ambrosino said they traced most of the improvement back to two significant illicit sewer connections that were going directly into the Island End. One of them was a large apartment building that had its sewer connected to the drainage pipes.
The second was a large-scale produce operation at the New England Produce Center that had an illicit sewer connection into the stormwater drainage – also flowing directly into the River.
“From what my public works folks tell me, that was the equivalent of taking out 30 single-family homes with illicit connections out of the Island End River,” Ambrosino said. “The second connection from the Produce Center only took out more of that pollution…Both of these improvements made a difference here. We’ve worked very cooperatively with Everett and Mayor DeMaria in looking at the Island End River on climate resilience too…This is a very important place for climate resilience, particularly with the Produce Center there, which is the second largest processing center in the U.S. We definitely expect to do more collaborative work with one another in the next five to 10 years.”
In Chelsea, the next major obstacle to tackle is Mill Creek, which received a ‘D-‘ once again. The Creek on the border of Chelsea and Revere has been rife with issues for years, but Ambrosino said they want to focus on that.
“Our next target is certainly Mill Creek,” said Ambrosino.
Other notable grades for Everett and Chelsea:
•Chelsea Creek – A
•Mystic River (Fresh Water before the Dam) – A-
•Mystic River (Salt Water after the Dam) B+
•Island End River – B
•Malden River – C
MyRWA Director Patrick Herron said most of the waterways in Everett and Chelsea are safe for boating and recreating, but he said using the grading is not the best way to decide what is the safest day. He said MyRWA has a real-time boating safety feature for most of the waterways on their website.
“What we would say is that as these are urban areas and we still have more work to do to improve conditions, we advise folks to avoid recreation on the water during the 48 hours after a major precipitation event,” he said. “We provide a recreation tool that predicts bacteria conditions on a ‘daily’ basis to help people make these informed decisions on recreation.”