By Eric Fisher

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s a grade any student would love to have, and this time it’s all about the water quality of the Charles River. It used to be horribly polluted, but it’s far from that now.

The Environmental Protection Agency started grading the health of the Charles in 1995. That year it got a “D.” Today, for the first time, the river that flows through 23 cities and towns received an “A-.”

“It’s like a jewel in the middle of the city,” says one woman out enjoying a walk by the river. More and more people are returning to the Charles along with birds, fish and other wildlife.

“It’s a great day to be out here on the Charles. Most days are great on the Charles,” says Curt Spalding, the EPA Regional Administrator. And with that, he delivered the good news about the river. “It’s gone from a failing grade to today. This year it got a grade of A- in terms of its’ water quality. That’s a tremendous achievement,” he says.

Tremendous because not long ago “Dirty Water” wasn’t just a song, it was reality. The Charles was just plain filthy. Raw sewage spilled into the river and the sediments were loaded with industrial pollutants. Today’s A- grade means the river meets swimming standards 70% of the time, and boating standards almost 100% of the time. “It is an important milestone in getting us back to the place where the river becomes the real gem,” says Bob Zimmerman who heads the Charles River Watershed Association.

However, the work is far from finished. The biggest problem now is storm water runoff. “When it rains, rain hits the parking lots and picks up pollution and that flows into the river,” says the EPA’s Curt Spalding.

That can cause toxic algae blooms. But the excellent grade means the progress is real. “It also says something about us, the willingness for us to invest in the long term, to restore nature,” says Zimmerman.

Some $5-billion have been spent on the cleanup of Boston Harbor and the Charles, and today the head of the MWRA thanked rate payers for funding that effort.

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Eric Fisher


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