PRESS RELEASE

ENVIRONMENTALISTS CHALLENGE STATE TO DO BETTER

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Boston, MA – Earth Day concerts, festivals, and cleanups help raise awareness
about protecting the earth, but a group of environmentalists say that Massachusetts
is not really doing its part to honor the earth. The group cited the state’s
failure to protect water resources as an example of how the Commonwealth could
do a lot more to protect the environment. Moreover, the group noted that the Commonwealth’s
investment in the environment has fallen to 48th in the nation.

“We host the largest Earth Day gathering in the nation, and yet we rank
near the bottom nationwide on environmental spending. Despite the importance
of Earth Day, that does make it a little difficult for a Massachusetts resident
to be overjoyed,” said James McCaffrey, Director of the Sierra Club of
Massachusetts. .

Advocates for Wetlands and Watersheds (AWW), a group that includes a number
of national, state, and local conservation groups, said that fewer than 10 percent
of the Commonwealth’s rivers are known to be safe for swimming, wading,
boating and fishing.

“The majority of Massachusetts waters have not even been assessed for
their water quality, and many of those that have been assessed are unsafe for
recreation,” stated the New England Director of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), Kyla Bennett. Bennett, a biologist and attorney who formerly
worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is one of the spokespeople
for the Advocates.

The Advocates say there has been very little progress in assessing and cleaning
up the state’s lakes and rivers in recent years. While much industrial
pollution was reduced following the first Earth day, 35 years ago, progress
has slowed in recent years. The Commonwealth continues to face ongoing contamination
from decades of undetected and undeterred industrial discharges in a number
of rivers, but today a larger portion of the state’s surface water bodies
are being polluted from non-point sources. These non-point sources, which include
contaminated stormwater runoff, pesticides and herbicides from yards and fields,
and fecal coliform bacteria often associated with illicit sewer connections
and leaky and broken sewer pipes, are more difficult than industrial wastes
to trace and clean up.

To compound this issue, the environmental agencies mandated to monitor and
prevent such contamination of the state’s water resources are unable to
keep up with the growing pollution problems because of the drop in the resources
available to them, impairing their ability to do even minimal assessments. According
to Jessica Stephens Siler, Environmental Advocate for the Environmental League
of Massachusetts, “the legislature and the current administration have
continued to decrease the funding for environmental agencies; the very agencies
directed to protect our natural resources.” As a result of these funding
cuts, key programs to protect water quality in rivers and lakes have been jeopardized.
Specifically:

  • Only 9 percent of Massachusetts rivers and streams are known to be safe
    for all their intended uses, such as fishing and swimming, compared with a
    national average of nearly 60 percent;
  • Sixty percent of sampled river miles in Massachusetts have one or more
    water quality problems;
  • Seventy-eight percent of the Commonwealth’s rivers have not even
    been assessed for water quality; and
  • Only 20 percent of the Commonwealth’s lakes are known to be safe
    for swimming and fishing.

The Department of Environmental Protection, which handles water monitoring,
wetlands and watershed protection, and enforcement and compliance of environmental
regulations, has lost over a quarter of its staff in the last three years. With
the budget cuts and loss of staff at DEP, the most basic management and protection
of the state’s water resources are jeopardized. In order to properly assess
water quality, DEP would need 33 additional employees and an additional $5.1
million (See Commonwealth’s Water Quality Monitoring Strategy, page v,
below). “The state’s own data paint a dark and murky picture of
water quality in Massachusetts,” says Stephens Siler. “When it comes
to our rivers and lakes, what we don’t know can hurt us.”

The Advocates for Wetlands and Watersheds are dedicated to improving the quality
of the Commonwealth’s waters and protecting wetlands. AWW supporters include
the Belmont Citizens Forum, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, the Charles
River Watershed Association, the Connecticut River Watershed Council, the Connecticut
Valley Summit, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, Friends of the Blue
Hills, the Housatonic River Initiative, Mass Audubon, the Massachusetts Association
of Conservation Commissions, the Mystic River Watershed Association, the Neponset
River Watershed Association, the Organization for the Assabet River, Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Save the Bay, the Sierra Club of
Massachusetts, the Taunton River Watershed Association, the Watershed Action
Alliance of Southeastern Massachusetts, and the Water Supply Citizens Advisory
Committee.

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View
the Commonwealth’s Water Quality Monitoring Strategy

See DEP’s
Water Quality Assessments

See
the Massachusetts Dirty Water fact sheet

See the photos