Stewards of Our Waterways

After years of industrial growth and expansion, fueled by world wars, the 1960s was a period of growing awareness and concern about our environment. Marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson who published Silent Spring in 1961 had already written Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea, all with the awareness of our interdependent relationship with nature and our impact on the waterways of our natural world. During that time a California chapter of the League of Women Voters with the leadership of three local women activists committed to the protection of the San Francisco Bay from the effects of overdevelopment. “Ecology” was becoming part of the lexicon, and with the moon landing in 1969, we had the opportunity to look back at our beautiful blue planet against the backdrop of the universe and appreciate its seeming fragility, elevating the consciousness of many who began to organize for the stewardship of our natural world.

Also in the 1960s, a League of Women Voters group in a Boston suburb were following the Army Corps of Engineers’ feasibility study of the Charles River for approval of a new dam a half-mile downriver from the Charles River Dam of 1910 that was no longer effective in protecting the city from the strong storm surges that had battered the coast in the preceding decade. This group calling themselves the “Charles River Valley Group” evolved into the Charles River Watershed Association founded in 1965.*

The increasing environmental awareness in the country during the 1960s led to the founding of Earth Day in the United States, on April 22, 1970. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, disheartened by a major oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969, sought out like-minded Republican Congressman Pete McClosky and Denis Hayes from Harvard and organized a “teach-in” for the environment. Twenty million people nationwide, concerned about the degradation of the environment, became involved in this grassroots movement that led to the creation of legislation for Clean Water and Air and the Endangered Species Act. Earth Day 1990 became worldwide with an emphasis on recycling. Then Earth Day 2000 used the Internet to reach more of the world’s leaders, and in 2010 the movement highlighted the urgency of action needed to restore our environment and contribute to a healthy climate. Meanwhile, Earth Day week in some areas now provides a range of activities for great awareness and opportunities to ameliorate the problems we are facing.

The continuing environmental initiatives of the Charles River Watershed Association have included vigilance of water use by some of the communities in the watershed, the organization using legal action where needed and the frequent monitoring of the water in various locations by a vigorous team of volunteers who submit their samples to rigorous scientific analysis. As mentioned in a previous blog, CRWA programs have also addressed the problem of storm water runoff from streets and sidewalks during rainfall, water that carries pollutants into storm drains, continuing into streams and rivers that eventually contribute to drinking water, offsetting the flow of these pollutants by creating green spaces and porous urban parking lots and walkways that allow the water to seep into the ground where pollutants are filtered out through natural processes. Now we are also seeing signs and labels on curbs that warn against dumping into storm drains anything harmful that will eventually flow into the water supply, and homeowners are cautioned against the use of chemicals in their yards that can also drain into streams and rivers.

In 2011 the international community recognized the many accomplishments of the CRWA with the awarding of the prestigious Thiess International Riverprize.

Each year the Charles River Watershed Association ‘s major cleanup initiative is scheduled around Earth Day. Volunteers gather at different points along the river to collect waste from the riverbanks. Some of the refuse has included tires, shopping carts, and bottles, as well as paper waste. This year’s cleanup was Saturday, April 30. Another CRWA activity for river cleanup is the “harvesting” of the invasive water chestnuts that choke the waters of Waltham’s Lakes Region above the Moody Street Dam. Volunteers in canoes literally pull out the offensive plants.

During Earth Day week in the Boston area, the CRWA sponsors the popular Run of the Charles, an annual paddling event that took place this year on Sunday, April 24. Participants started at six, nine, nineteen, and twenty-four miles from the finish line at Brighton’s Herter Park.

Another organization that contributes to the enhancement of the river is the Charles River Conservancthat began in 2000 for the purpose of improving the parklands along the banks of the Charles in Boston and Cambridge.

*In 1978 the Gridley Dam at the mouth of the Charles River was completed and named after Colonel Richard Gridley, the first to lead the colonial army engineers who built fortifications at Bunker Hill during the Revolutionary War. This dam and the accompanying pumps have so far held back the floodwaters of ocean surges.



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