Alewife Reservation Leading the Way in Clean Water: Federal Legislation Would Extend Protections to All Wetlands

Media Releases

Environment Massachusetts

Cambridge, MA – In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed in a historic promise to make all of our lakes and rivers safe for fishing and swimming by 1985. Today, 38 years later, our waters still lack the protections they need: nearly half the waters in the U.S. are considered too polluted to be safe.

A bill in Congress would strengthen the Clean Water Act to make good on its promise. “We need clean water now, and we need the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment” said Eleanor Fort, Preservation Associate for Environment Massachusetts.

Rollbacks to the Clean Water Act over the last decade have left our wetlands and smaller streams vulnerable. Polluters can now slip under the radar of the Environmental Protection Agency’s system of permits. Even when polluters are under the permit system, toxic chemicals end up in our river and in our drinking water. Industrial facilities discharged over 12,700 pounds of toxic chemicals in Massachusetts’ rivers in 2007.

Yet in Cambridge, there has been remarkable leadership to keep the wetlands and streams that feed our rivers clean. The Alewife Reservation, where Little Pond and Little River collect the water that eventually flows into the Mystic River, is an example of the care and keeping of clean water that all our wetlands should have.

The Cambridge Department of Public Works, together with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, is working on a series of projects that will improve the quality of water in the Alewife Reservation.  A project expected to begin in the Summer 2010 will separate and treat rainwater from nearby neighborhoods improving the quality of water flowing to the Alewife Brook and improving the local hydrology.  “Cambridge is excited to begin implementing these projects that will keep our waters clean and communities healthy”, said Catherine Woodbury from the Cambridge Department of Public Works.

Ellen Mass, President of the Friends of the Alewife Reservation, a community group working to bring attention to these issues by educating community members through activities and events, is proud of the restoration project. “The watershed will be significantly changed with the improvement of water quality and flow with Cambridge’s storm water management and wetlands restoration project”, says Mass.

The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the same protections to other wetlands across the state. Massachusetts has over 48,000 acres of wetlands according to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. These areas could be the dumping ground for toxic chemicals and other pollution under the current federal law.

The Clean Water Act should be implemented the way it was intended – to make all of our waters fishable and swimmable. That means writing permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of pollution – and then enforcing them with credible penalties, not just warning letters.

This also means making sure that every waterway in Massachusetts is once again protected by Clean Water Act permits. The Mystic River will never be clean if we allow others to pollute the very streams and the wetlands that feed it on the Alewife Reservation. The Clean Water Restoration Act – now pending in Congress – would restore protection to thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country.

Congressman Capuano should be applauded for co-sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act in 2007. His continued leadership on clean water will be crucial in the coming months as the bill is introduced in his committee and in the House. “With such innovation for clean water here in the Alewife Reservation, it is appropriate for our Representative to show the same dedication in Washington at this crucial time”, concluded Fort.