A Tale of Two Rivers

Why has Boston's Charles River experienced a renaissance when just across the city, the Mystic continues to be a polluter's playground?

CLF and our allies are fighting for the future of both of Boston’s iconic waterways.

In one part of Boston, there’s the Charles River. In another, the Mystic. Two iconic rivers – two very different stories.

Both were once heavily polluted. But where the Charles has become the poster child of environmental success, the Mystic tells a different tale – one that exposes a region divided along racial and economic lines. 

On the Charles River, an incredible amount of effort went into cleaning up its famously dirty water. Today the Charles is a beautiful green oasis for runners, kayakers, sailors, and commuters. Its transformation from an open sewer to one of the busiest recreational waterways in the world is remarkable. It’s become an iconic image of the city.

And that’s something we all should celebrate.

But barely a mile away flows the Mystic River. Power plants, factories, salt piles, and other industries engulf its shores, walling it off to many of the people who live along its waters. Activists are fighting hard to give the Mystic the attention it deserves, but too often, polluters of its waters get a pass. 

How did this happen? Why did one river experience a renaissance while the other was left largely in the hands of polluters?

The reality is that neighborhoods like Back Bay and Beacon Hill face the Charles. Iconic institutions like Harvard and MIT line its shores. It’s home to whiter, wealthier, and more politically powerful residents. 

Meanwhile, the Mystic River runs through Everett, East Boston, and Chelsea, all home to more working-class residents, immigrants, and Black and Brown people.  

Wealth, whiteness, citizenship – these shouldn’t equal protection. 

 It doesn’t have to be this way – it shouldn’t be this way. CLF and our allies are fighting for the future of both of Boston’s iconic waterways. The Charles River still faces serious threats today. And the Mystic River? We need to double down to ensure it gets the attention it deserves – that it, too, can be transformed into an oasis for the people who live along its shores. 

You can get involved in the fight for a more equitable future for Boston’s two rivers. Sign up for the latest news from CLF so you’ll know when you can take action for clean water.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.