Sunday, July 22, 2007

Visibility at the Charles River Annual Swim - Reality Check in the Face of False Representation

Yesterday, July 21, 2007, I attended the "First Annual Charles River Swim," from 7 to 10 am. After the race I handed out flyers about the cause of the algae bloom on the river--the DCR's 6 acres of commercial sod at the Ebersol Red Sox fields at Lederman Park by Mass General Hospital in Boston.

The DCR replaced the existing riverfront ball fields in the spring of 2006 with professional-level ones. Runoff from the fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and the fungicide applied to those 6 acres caused the unprecedented algae counts in August and September, 2006.

Once the algae are in the river they're there forever. After the bloom, the spores sink, go dormant, and overwinter at the bottom of the river. When summer comes they re-emerge and bloom again.

So organizers were racing the algae this year. The real "First Annual Charles River Swim" was to have been in late August, 2006, but it was canceled because of the algae bloom that month. Even so, for the 2007 "First Annual Charles River Swim," it was a close call this year, since the algae also began a month earlier. Should we attribute that to global warming? In any case, only a change in the weather saved the day for the race on July 21, 2007.

Swimmers entered the water from the boat dock nearest the band shell where the Pops July 4th concerts are held. (The Charles Station on the Red Line is the closest T stop.) They swam an oval course around 6 bouys between the Longfellow and Mass. Ave. bridges. It was quite thrilling to watch such excellent swimmers. And the day was brilliant.

Everyone was very aware of the dangers of the algae bloom. Race organizers cautioned the swimmers before the start. The algae are toxic after they die, and the bloom had only begun. So they said the water was safe enough for swimming, but could cause an allergic reaction. They recommended washing off after the swim in the portable showers provided. They asked that anyone with an allergic or other reaction notify them, since this was a public health matter.

The race had been oversubscribed--100 swimmers was the limit--but there were cancellations and only 69 competed. I talked with one Masters swimmer who opted not to swim because of the algae. He was there to support a teammate, who in fact came in first, at 20 minutes 20 seconds. I also talked with the winning woman, who swam it in 21 minutes 46 seconds. As I said, it was thrilling.

All but one of the swimmers (the man who came in first) I talked with after the race had blue-green algae inside their suits. It wasn't pretty, and they were eager to get out of their suits and wash off.

What the so-called environmental organizations were handing out about water quality and the algae bloom is disturbing. There is no mention of the DCR's Ebersol fields. Not one glossy handout mentioned how the millions of dollars spent on the DCR's 6 "professional level" acres is undoing the work of 17 years and $60 million so far to clean up the Charles.

There's another $19 million budgeted for now to 2013, without factoring in the algae. Since the DCR and the "environmentalist organizations" do not even acknowledge the effect of the Ebersol fields on the river's health, we have no reason to believe they will address the problem, or how much it might cost to remedy it, assuming a remedy is possible. This is all the more disturbing because they are doing nothing to prevent Cambridge and the DCR from installing another 7 acres of commercial sod at Magazine Beach.

Since Friends of the White Geese first sounded the alarm about the Ebersol fields and the algae bloom, these "environmental organizations" have done their best to point their fingers in any direction other than the DCR's blunder there. CRWA informational boat rides, for example, mention everything but the Ebersol fields' chemical runoff.

Yet the 2006 bloom, fed by fertilizers at Ebersol fields, exploded the day after the DCR applied "Tartan," a fungicide not to be applied near water. And, after a decline, the count rose again in early September when the DCR reapplied "Tartan" on September 1. ("Tartan" was necessary, the DCR explained at the time, to provide "the quality of turf our players deserve.")

The "environmental organizations" even mention goose poop as a cause of the algae bloom. What can account for this disregard of the truth?

The DCR has worked for years to rid the river of waterfowl, although the Charles is on the Atlantic flyway for migratory birds. With its agent the Charles River Conservancy, it routinely destroys plants that provide cover for herons, ducks, geese, and other birds.

The DCR and the CRC have worked for at least 5 years to get rid of Canada geese. They have worked for at least 9 years to get rid of the Charles River White Geese. They poison eggs, they use teams of border collies, they use plastic coyotes, and they have used other, less visible "volunteers" to get rid of these animals. By 2004, by the DCR's own estimate, there were no more than 200 resident Canadas on 10 miles of river and the count was going down. The population of White Geese was far less and also decreasing because of the DCR's efforts, including starvation.

(For three years, the DCR and Cambridge have denied the White Geese access to their primary source of food, the grass at Magazine Beach and by the Hyatt Hotel in Cambridge. Only the heroic efforts of the public have kept the White Geese from starvation.)

These animals did not cause an algae bloom of unprecedented proportions in 2006 or the ones this summer.

As part of the DCR-Cambridge project at Magazine Beach, the DCR and Cambridge plan 7 more acres of playing fields with commercial turf, like Ebersol fields. The project will dig up, truck out, and replace the dirt and natural grass there now with gravel, topsoil, commercial sod, and fences.

It will gold-plate the playing fields there now, and destroy "Bordering Lands Subject to Flooding," a wetland category that is both rich habitat for waterfowl and supports ball games during the season. The DCR says that human activity has already destroyed waterfowl habitat at Magazine Beach, and the City of Cambridge accepts that lie. Both are working to pollute the river at Magazine Beach by repeating the environmental crime at Ebersol fields.

As "mitigation" for the loss of what they claim is no longer habitat at Magazine Beach, the DCR and Cambridge have cut down healthy trees and installed a large puddle with a bridge over it. Water does not circulate in it, so it collects filth. The DCR routinely refuses to maintain whatever its assets are, and this is no exception. In addition to trash, the puddle now has what seems to be a fine bloom of algae and its toxic byproducts. Swimming in or near such a sump is unthinkable.

The DCR and CRC had a swim-in at Magazine Beach to celebrate thiss "restoration," which last year blocked human and animal access to 95% of the river. Contractors hired to deal with the wall of plants there faced three work order changes within a week. They concluded the DCR and Cambridge officials didn't know what they were doing.


"Nothing is so frightful as ignorance in action," it is said. Cambridge gave permission to reproduce the Ebersol field disaster last September, after it was on notice of the August, 2006 algae bloom caused by runoff from those fields. It is difficult to believe Cambridge and DCR officials are ignorant, or that they really want a "swimmable Charles." It may be more frightful to see the wanton, deliberate pollution of the Charles River.

These are the same officials who are wantonly destroying every cherry tree on Memorial Drive between the BU and Longfellow Bridges, in addition to hundreds of others there, as part of a "restoration."

The "environmentalist" organizations and officials, including nine Cambridge City Councilors, depend on a secret definition of the term that bears no relation to a healthy environment, including a clean river, for humans and wildlife. To be in on their secret, see elsewhere in these reports, at

Marilyn Wellons