Saying Goodbye to that “Dirty Water”

Walking along Boston Harbor today, it’s hard to believe that this bustling waterfront was ever anything but the beautiful and vibrant place we all know today. But, barely 30 years ago, Boston Harbor teemed with so much sewage and toxic pollution that its dirty water almost defied description. At the time, it was deemed a problem too big, too dirty, too impossible to solve – which made it just the kind of problem we at Conservation Law Foundation knew we had to take on.

CLF in Action

CLF set out to take back Boston Harbor from the polluters and restore it to the people of Massachusetts. In 1983 we filed suit against the City of Boston and the Commonwealth.

No one, including we at CLF, suspected that this would be a decades-long, $4.5 billion effort – nor could we have predicted the critical role our lawsuit would play in saving Boston’s “Harbor of Shame.”

It is safe to say that it was worth the wait and the investment. Today, Boston Harbor is swimmable and fishable. Boston now has a world-class water and sewer authority and a new National Park celebrating the Boston Harbor Islands. Billions of dollars were invested in real estate, producing thousands of jobs around the harbor in the process.

The clean up recently reached a major milestone when the federal court overseeing the case acknowledged the completion of the final two sewer upgrade projects envisioned by the original clean up plan. While more needs to be done for clean water in Boston, the harbor clean up is a true success story.

Many people worked over many years to make this transformation happen, but it was CLF’s relentless advocacy and our vision for a better future for Boston and its people that got it all started and saw it through to this successful end.

What’s at Stake

CLF is not done with Boston Harbor.

All the tributaries coming into Boston Harbor still suffer from significant stormwater pollution from multiple public and private sources. These discharges expose Massachusetts residents to disease, damage the environment, and frustrate new economic opportunities.

At the same time, climate change poses new risks to the health of the harbor – and that of the neighborhoods that now thrive in its wake.

With the same energy we brought to the battle for Boston Harbor, we are hard at work fighting those pollution sources and we are scrutinizing new development on the harbor to ensure that it is ready to withstand bigger storms and sea level rise. We look forward to similar moments of great accomplishment and satisfaction in the future when we can finally say that this great harbor’s entire watershed has a clean bill of health.