Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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Graffiti and litter mar Mystic River parkland in Medford in 2013.

Graffiti and litter mar Mystic River parkland in Medford in 2013. (Photo: Thea Prum)

Two local Democrats chose Tuesday to celebrate a legislative win: then-Gov. Deval Patrick’s signing of legislation this month establishing a Mystic River Water Quality Commission aimed at keeping the river’s water quality high enough for fishing, boating and swimming, then growing its recreational opportunities.

“People are finally starting to pay attention to the Mystic,” said state Rep. Denise Provost, who wrote the legislation with state Sen. Pat Jehlen.

State Rep. Denise Provost

Denise Provost

“They use the new paths or go to Assembly Square and realize what a tremendous resource we have. The time has come to make the river cleaner, safer and more accessible to all,” Provost said.

The river watershed covers 76 square miles, including all or parts of 22 cities and towns holding about a half-million people. The surrounding density contributes to its problems, including overflows of untreated sewage into the river in mid-December. In May 2013, a 9,600-gallon spill of home heating oil onto Route 60 in Arlington from a J.P. Noonan Transportation truck sent oil down storm drains and into the river, although emergency response crews were able to recapture most of the spill within weeks.

The 13-member commission – actually signed into existence Dec. 24, in the final weeks of the 2013-14 legislative session – will include one member appointed from the Arlington-based Mystic River Watershed Association, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and members from the House and Senate, among others. It will report on its findings and recommendations by July 31, 2017, to the Legislature’s joint committee on environment, natural resources and agriculture and the house and senate committees on ways and means.

The Arlington-based Mystic River Watershed Association called the formation of the commission “timely” based on last month’s release of the annual Mystic River Watershed Report Card grade by the federal agency. “Unfortunately, for the fourth year in a row, Mystic River Watershed water quality earned a report card grade of ‘D,’” the nonprofit said, interpreting the grade as meaning boating was safe 83 percent of the time but “swimming standards were met only 49 percent of the time.”

The Mystic River has been getting increasing attention from local communities, the federal agency, Mystic River Watershed Association and other nonprofits, developers and private citizens who want to use the river better and more, Provost and Jehlen said.

012015i-Pat-Jehlen

Pat Jehlen

“With so many citizens, advocates, government officials and private developers interested in improving the Mystic River Watershed, now is the perfect time to convene the commission so that we can coordinate and focus people’s efforts,” Jehlen said.

EkOngKar Singh Khalsa, executive director of the Mystic River Watershed Association called the timing on the initiative “perfect … as it will help galvanize support for river cleanup as private development significantly increases in the Mystic.”

Some of Massachusetts’ most densely populated cities and towns are bordered by the Mystic: Cambridge and Somerville and Arlington, Belmont, Burlington, Charlestown, Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Reading, Revere, Stoneham, Wakefield, Watertown, Wilmington, Winchester, Winthrop and Woburn.

Provost represents the 27th Middlesex District, which includes part of Somerville. Jehlen represents the 2nd Middlesex District, which includes Somerville, Medford and parts of Cambridge and Winchester.