Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Swimming in the Charles River

Two Cambridge residents considered the issue of swimming in the Charles River at Magazine Beach. In a late November, 2005 e-mail exchange, Marilyn wrote that

The Charles is swimmable right now (but not in this season, obviously) near the Charles River dam at the Museum of Science. This news was folded into a Globe editorial this past summer.

Swimming in the Charles at Magazine Beach isn't safe because the sediment there, from long-gone tanneries and other industries upstream, is toxic. A clean-up or technical fix may not be possible, or if it is, possible within a reasonable budget.

There is swimming at Magazine Beach, of course, in the DCR pool. Like skating rinks and other assets, it has suffered from the MDC-DCR's neglect. The front-page article in today's Globe addresses the most glaring example of this problem, the Longfellow Bridge. Ordinary maintenance suffers while fancy projects like the Memorial Drive "Historic Restoration" ($7.5 million) get funded.

The Magazine Beach pool is also subject to MDC-DCR budget hold-ups, e.g., "we can't open this summer/we have to close it in August because we don't get enough money to operate it." Communities have to mobilize to get their legislators to give the agency more money for such specific purposes. However, at one public hearing I attended, a legislator complained that the MDC-DCR diverts even earmarked money to what it pleases.

At Magazine Beach it pleases the DCR to close the pool and build up demand for swimming in the river, even if that means some experimental and costly fix. It doesn't please the DCR to keep the pool open, to keep condoms out of the kiddie pool, the trash picked up, and the snow plowed.

One thing environmental science has done is to alert us to the problems of swimming in water with heavy metal sediment. The designer plants and "swimming lagoon" now at Magazine Beach, part of Cambridge's $1.5 million contribution to this vision of swimming in the river, will do nothing to make these problems go away.

And if the idea's to swim in the river rather than a pool, it's already perfectly safe and much, much less expensive to swim in the Charles farther downriver, by the Museum of Science. The Globe reported the water temperature in June (or July?) was perfect.

Kathy responded that

Recent testing under the Western Ave bridge confirms that the water this far up-river is unclean, and not fit for swimming.

"Poor folks," used to be "steered" to Magazine Beach for swimming, while "other" folks took the Blue Line, or their '56 Chevy, to Revere.

Magazine Beach, and other "fresh water" swimming holes were finally closed as a result of the polio "scare", and repeated pollution.

The reality of swimming at Magazine Beach is just as you say, money. The Charles "River" is not a River at all, but a partially filled "Estuary." It drains thousands of acres of land, and is filled, therefore, with sediment, contaminated, or otherwise unpalatable. The tides, which Mother Nature used to send "upstream", have been blocked by the dam. The "River" is not "clear", nor should it be, as an estuary it should continue to do the work it was designed to do. It is a treasure, and should be protected from development!

The money for the pools should be ensured by taxpayers, well in advance. The "folks" on [Beacon Hill] should stop toying with the pools, like a cat with a mouse. If the goal of ending the "malaise" at the MDC was to be achieved by renaming this agency the DCR" it obviously did not work. A rose by any other name...