Winning the Race for Clean Water

Anthony Iarrapino

I just paddled in from Waltham and boy are my arms tired…Seriously, I know I am not alone among contestants in the 30th Annual Charles River Watershed Association Run of the Charles canoe, kayak, and paddleboard race who downed several ibuprofen after Sunday’s vigorous paddle.  I think I can speak for the entire ten-person CLF team when I say the pain was worth it.  While we didn’t win the race in the literal sense, everyone on the CLF team did feel like winners knowing that we work for an organization who’s longstanding commitment to clean water in the Charles helps make events like the Run of the Charles possible.

My fellow anchorman, Lake Champlain Lakekeeper Louis Porter, kept me digging for dear life as we passed up several boats in the home stretch. Still, I could not help stealing a second here and there to admire the stunning riverscape that unfolded before our bow.  Redwinged blackbirds, swallows, mockingbirds, kingfishers, sparrows of all sorts, and geese floated with and flew over us.  Anglers lined parts of the shore, wetting lines in hopes of a strike.  In some places industrial revolution-era mill buildings that once used the power of the river to make machines run still encroach.  But in other places, you could barely make out signs of civilization through the thicket of shrubs and trees heavy with bright green early season buds.

There was quite a party underway at the finish line.  Folks of all ages, from as far away as Vermont, Maine, New York, and New Jersey had come to the water’s edge to celebrate our relationship with the river.  Numerous food vendors were doing a brisk business, as were the folks who rented out canoes and kayaks to those of us in the race who don’t have boats of our own.

After I caught my breath, I began to reflect on the fact that all the fun and commercial activity that the race had generated wouldn’t be possible without a clean river that is safe for swimming, boating, and fishing.

CLF and our partners like Charles River Watershed Association, whose sponsorship of the race is so important to keeping folks connected to the river, have been working for decades to insure that the river continues to be an attraction to the people of our region.  Thanks in large part to various advocacy campaigns, volunteer cleanups, and court cases to enforce the Clean Water Act over the years, EPA now gives the Charles River a “B” grade on its annual report card of water health.  That means the river was safe for boating 82% of the time last year and for swimming 54% of the time.  While that marks a vast improvement of the “D” grade the river received in 1995, more work remains to be done.  Fun events like the Run of the Charles–and the economic activity it generated in the communities the river flows through–are a great reminder of why CLF is committed to clean water work in the Charles and in countless other waters from the coasts to the mountains. 

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