Continuing Education: Urban Swimming Holes

By Joann Gonchar, FAIA
Architectural Record

As Archie Lee Coates tells it, + POOL—a concept launched in the summer of 2010 for a swimming facility that would float in New York’s inner harbor and be filled with river water filtered by the pool’s own walls—was created almost on a lark. He and Jeff Franklin, his partner in the multidisciplinary design firm PlayLab, along with Dong-Ping Wong and Oana Stanescu, founders of the former architecture firm Family, wanted to make it possible for their fellow New Yorkers to swim in the city’s rivers without worrying about the dangers posed by currents, boat traffic, floating debris, or pollution.

By Coates’s own admission, the four friends, then all in their mid- to late 20s, and who had all launched their firms only a year before, were incredibly naive: “We didn’t understand anything about water quality, how to build in New York, or how to fundraise,” he says. But they had hardly any work—it was the depths of the Great Recession—so they spent a few weeks developing a scheme for a cross-shaped pool 50 meters across in both directions. They made a website (pluspool.org) and a pamphlet that they sent to the parks department and other city agencies. They received little response at first, but the project started getting attention after a friend wrote an article for a business newsletter. A few weeks later, the idea caught the eye of the engineering firm Arup, which offered to help develop the filtering system.

In the intervening years, more than $340,000 dollars has been raised for + POOL in two Kickstarter campaigns, the project has attracted support from corporate sponsors (including Heineken), and it has won grants for the development and testing of its filtration system and for other activities. Friends of + POOL—a nonprofit established in 2015 whose primary mission is to support the development of the facility but which also oversees a number of other initiatives, including a children’s learn-to-swim program—has an annual operating budget of $1 million. Significant hurdles remain. The one that looms largest is finding a site, but, according to Coates—who serves as the organization’s executive director—the mayor’s office has committed to helping identify a spot in the Hudson or East River by the end of the year. Clearly, this seemingly outlandish idea has legs.

New York is hardly the only city considering a swimming facility for waters previously thought unsuitable for such a use. In the U.S. and Europe, there are several active proposals. One with considerable momentum is Flussbad for the center of Berlin, first proposed two decades ago by brothers Jan and Tim Elder, cofounders of realities:united, an art-and-architecture studio perhaps best known for its light and media facade on Peter Cook’s Kunsthaus Graz in Austria. The Flussbad project would transform the Spree Canal, the disused waterway that slowly flows alongside one edge of Museum Island, where many of the city’s important museums are located, into a 2,700-foot-long swimming channel, 50 feet across at its narrowest point.

Although Flussbad involves few built elements—access to the water, a bioremediation zone that would cleanse the water, and potentially changing and showering facilities—Jan Elder says that full realization might not become reality until 2025. It could take that long to sort out questions surrounding land ownership and usage, secure funds for construction and management, and develop a legal framework that would allow safe operation of the facility in the middle of the city. But there has been notable progress in recent years, including two Holcim prizes with a combined cash award of $150,000, financing of a feasibility study with about $130,000 from Berlin’s LOTTO, and the granting of nearly $4.7 million from the federal government for further development of the Flussbad concept. Last November, the state parliament voted to establish a committee that would help the project obtain the necessary permits. It is rare, points out Elder, for a grassroots project to receive so much official support.

In London, a scheme for a floating river pool on the Thames also shows promise. Since the project was chosen as one of the winners of a 2013 call-for-ideas competition organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, the Thames Baths Community Interest Company, led by the local architecture practice Studio Octopi (see page 31), raised almost $200,000 in a 2015 Kickstarter campaign; refined its plans for a pontoon that would accommodate two pools, including a 25-meter lap pool, with marine engineers and other consultants; created a business and operations plan; and assessed a number of potential high-profile sites, including one outside the Tate Modern. But now the project team is evaluating opportunities with the owners and developers of a property in East London. Chris Romer-Lee, a Studio Octopi director, says the move away from the center of the city should benefit the project. “We’ve begun to realize that the baths are a placemaking tool, rather than something you plug into an already established site,” he says.

Launched only two years ago, an effort to create a river swim park in Boston or Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a relative newcomer among proposals for floating urban baths. But the group behind the plan—the Charles River Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to enhancement of the river’s parkland—has already completed a feasibility study with the local office of Stantec and has commissioned a second engineering firm, Foth-CLE, to further develop the concept for an enclosed swimming facility that is most likely to be located adjacent to North Point Park in Cambridge, a green space created to replace parkland lost to Boston’s Big Dig highway project. The spot has several advantages, according to Vanessa Nason, the conservancy’s project manager, including sufficient water depths, limited boat traffic, and accessibility from subway and commuter rail stops.

Though these four proposals take varying approaches to bringing natural swimming to cities, they are all motivated by a shared view of urban waterways as untapped resources. As Romer-Lee puts it: “The Thames is the city’s largest public space, but most Londoners just travel over or around it. They have no engagement with it.” This desire to reconnect people with the water that surrounds them is a logical next step, as cities revamp their riverfronts and shorelines for recreational and residential uses, according to Jane Withers, a UK-based design consultant and writer who curated Urban Plunge, an exhibition that explored the relationship between cities and their waterways, first shown at London’s Roca Gallery in 2014. “Why should this activity stop at the water’s edge?” she asks.

Withers points to the turnaround of Copenhagen Harbor, which for many years was contaminated by wastewater, oil spills, and algae. But thanks to infrastructure improvements, the water is now safe for swimming. The harbor has four popular floating swimming facilities that have helped reclaim the former industrial port as a social and cultural center. Another Danish city, Aarhus, is hoping to replicate this success. Earlier this summer, it opened what is being touted as the world’s largest seawater bath, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which also designed the first such Copenhagen Harbor facility, with Julien De Smedt Architects, 15 years ago. Aarhus’s new triangular floating complex has a wooden deck that sits on top of prefabricated concrete pontoons. Surrounded by an elevated walkway, it includes a 50-meter-long pool, a children’s area, a circular diving pool, and two saunas.

For many European and American cities, the main impediment to water that is as reliably clean as that in the harbors of Copenhagen and Aarhus is outdated infrastructure. Often these places depend on so-called combined sewers, which transport stormwater that runs off roadways, domestic sewage, and sometimes industrial waste, in the same pipe. When such a system works optimally, this unsavory mixture is transported to a wastewater plant, where it is treated and then discharged to a river, stream, or other water body. But when it rains, the system can become overloaded, and the cocktail, including raw sewage, is dumped directly into waterways. This release of untreated water is referred to as a combined sewer overflow, or CSO.

New York officials maintain that harbor water quality is better than it has been in a century, due to tightening regulations and increased infrastructure investments. And in dry conditions, the Hudson and East Rivers are often free enough from contaminants to be considered safe for swimming. But 60 percent of the city is still served by a combined sewer system that discharges about 27 billion gallons of pollutants into waterways each year. And at some of its 460 outfall points, as little as 1 ⁄10 of an inch of rain can cause an overflow, according Dan Shapley, director of the water-quality program at Riverkeeper, a nonprofit organization that works to protect the Hudson River and the New York watershed. “Basically, every time it rains, sewage is overflowing somewhere in N-Y-C,” he says.

To cope with these conditions, + POOL’s filter, developed by Arup, will consist of multiple layers of fabric membrane that will remove successively smaller particles, as well as bacteria, without the use of chlorine or other chemicals. Further refinement of the system, which was tested in the Hudson for six months during the spring and summer of 2014 and has a provisional patent, depends on site selection, since water quality varies not only with the amount of precipitation, but also with location, according to Nancy Choi, an Arup senior engineer. The team is also still working to determine an appropriate turnover for the water once it is in the pool to prevent the introduction of pathogens from the swimmers themselves. She is confident, however, that “the water will be measurably cleaner going out than coming in.” The pool will filter about 600,000 gallons of water each day.

The Flussbad will take a different approach toward CSOs, which dump sewage into the Spree Canal about 15 to 20 times a year. To create its filtering system, a 1,300-foot-long section of the channel will contain a gravel-and-sand bed planted with reeds and grasses. The water will be microbiologically cleansed as it slowly flows through this zone, driven by gravity, before it is released into the swimming area. Calculations have shown that the scheme works, but a year-long test of a prototype filter has just gotten under way using a barge moored in the canal.

The Thames Baths, like the Flussbad, plans to use bioremediation with gravel beds and reeds, but, as with + POOL, the final configuration is highly dependent on the ultimate site. “It’s a chicken-and-egg situation,” says Romer-Lee. Meanwhile, the Charles River Conservancy also is considering plants as a means of improving water quality. However, the current scheme calls for a pool with mesh sides, with water flowing through unfiltered. The proposal assumes that the Charles is swimmable, explains Audrey Cropp, a Stantec design visualization specialist and landscape architect who acted as the feasibility report’s project manager. And, in fact, the river earned an A- rating from the Environmental Protection Agency last year, which means its water almost always met standards for safe boating and swimming. (As recently as 1995, the Charles earned a grade of D.) But even with these improved conditions, the conservancy acknowledges that, like public beaches, the Charles is unlikely to meet health standards every day of the summer. On days when the water quality is poor, the swim park would be closed.

Naturally, the conservancy and the groups behind the pools in New York, Berlin, and London are also hoping that there will be a day in the not-so-distant future when the water in their cities is clean enough that neither filters nor closures will be necessary. And they hope that their projects will play at least a small part in making this transformation happen. “The idea is to connect the community to an incredible resource,” says Cropp. “If they are connected to it, they will take care of it.”

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9 Cities Making Polluted Waterways into Swimming Hotspots

Reclaiming rivers, one pool at a time

By Megan Barber @megcbarber
Curbed Magazine

Opening day in 2017 at the Bassin de la Villette swimming pool on the Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris. Shutterstock

Some of the world’s busiest and largest cities have long had a water problem. Historically a lifeline for trade, production, and travel, city rivers have also suffered from devastating pollution.

However, cities around the world are now working to make once-polluted rivers safe for swimming. That might seem shocking to urbanites who grew up seeing—and smelling—everything from raw sewage to trash in the waterways, but it’s no longer a pie-in-the-sky future plan. It’s actually happening.

This revolutionary idea aims to connect neglected river fronts with the people and businesses that surround them. From open-water swimming areas to filtering pools that help clean river water while people swim, we’ve rounded up impressive projects in nine different cities.

Some—like a canal in Paris—have just opened, while other projects are still in the planning stages. But all show that for more and more cities, a dip in your local river could be the perfect way to cool off.

The Charles River in Boston

A rendering of what a swim-park could look like in Boston’s Charles River. Courtesy of the Charles River Conservancy

The Charles River Conservancy calls the formerly polluted Charles River the cleanest urban river in America. Recreational swimming has been prohibited in the Charles since the 1950s, when the beaches and bathhouses were closed. But since 1995, years of environmental health initiatives have cleaned up the water.

Since 2013, the Conservancy has hosted public swim days and a one-mile swim race with over 1,400 people participants. The water is tested 48-hours prior to each event to ensure public safety, and the goal is to build an accessible and permanent swimming facility in the Charles. If implemented, the swim-park would be located within North Point Park, along the border of Cambridge and Boston. While still in the planning stages, the Conservancy has held public meetings to get feedback on its plans and is actively working to bring the swim park to reality.

The Baignade Bassin de la Villette in Paris

Opened in 2017 as a temporary—and free!—swimming zone at La Villette canal basin in Paris, this river pool is proving that even in historically polluted urban areas, swimming can be possible. The pool actually features three different pools, including one for children, and it returned this year as part of the popular summer festival Paris Plages. It’s likely that last summer’s popularity will continue; the pools were so in demand that they maxed out their daily quota of 1,000 swimmers and inspired long queues.

The success of the new canal pool has prompted increased attention for the city to tackle Paris’s most famous waterway: the Seine. Swimming in the Seine has been banned since 1923, but the city’s successful bid to host the 2024 Olympics includes plans to make the river officially swimmable.

The East River in New York City

A rendering of +Pool, a plan to create a filtering public swimming pool in New York’s East River. Courtesy of +Pool

Eight years ago, a group called +Pool proposed what many derided as an outlandish idea: To create a floating pool in New York’s waterways that would have the ability to filter the polluted water, provide a place to swim, and help cleanse the river at the same time.

According to Curbed NY, since then +Pool has taken many small steps toward realizing the aquatic project, including launching two successful Kickstarter campaigns to raise funds and conducting feasibility studies (including one in the Hudson River) to see if its technology is viable.

The +Pool has also enlisted the help of Joshua David (co-founder of the High Line) for planning and the Tribeca Film Festival to create a documentary about their work. Another high-profile partnership includes the Heineken-sponsored “The Cities Project”, which will donate $100,000 to the cause once +POOL successfully garners 100,000 pledges. If you’re interested in signing your name, head to SwimInTheRiver.com.

The St. Lawrence River in Montreal

For the 15th time, swimmers recently jumped into the St. Lawrence River next to the Jacques Cartier Pier in Old Montreal. “Le Grande Splash” is organized to promote the river’s recreational possibilities, especially because many locals still fear the sewage that has historically overflowed into the river after rain events.

But groups like Montreal Baignade want to prove that the St. Lawrence is safe to swim 99.9 percent of the time during the summer. They also want to encourage more access sites, like a new $4 million beach in Verdun that was announced in 2016, but won’t be complete until next summer.

The River Thames in London

A rendering of a proposed pool in the River Thames. Courtesy of Picture Plane & Studio Octopi

Similar in concept to the New York +Pool idea, a group of architects and designers in London want to build a series of open-air pools in the middle of the River Thames. Called the Thames Baths, the project was originally launched in 2013 by Studio Octopi architects and has been supported by thousands of backers on Kickstarter.

Each pool would be filled with filtrated Thames water and heated in winter. Current designs include plans for locations adjacent to City Hall, the South Bank, and Temple Stairs and the hope is that events like cinema-and-swim nights would help make the pools cultural destinations and revitalize the river. It’s been quiet for the Thames Baths team in 2018, but according to their Facebook page, they are hoping to have better progress to report later this year.

The Los Angeles River

A rendering of what the LA River could look like in the future. Courtesy of LA River.org

Anyone familiar with the Los Angeles River of the past may recall an ugly concrete flood control channel that runs through the heart of the city—and sometimes runs dry. That’s changing, however, thanks to massive restoration projects both the central and lower waterfront into something much more riverlike. And that’s just the beginning for nonprofit advocacy groups like River LA who want to see all 51 miles of the river transformed.

The city plans to convert the industrial Taylor Yard space into a riverside park, and California’s 2017 budget set aside $98 million for the LA River, money that the Los Angeles Daily News said could be used to build “soccer fields, picnic areas and hiking paths.” In the section from Vernon to Long Beach, new draft plans for the 19-mile stretch show parkland, trails, bridges, landscaping, and paths for walkers and cyclists.

Friends of the LA River has not only conducted massive cleanup projects, but the organization has also helped to educate the public on kayak tours, river tours, bird watching, biking, and other waterfront recreation. While it will likely still take years for swimming in the LA River to be legal and safe, this is huge progress for a river that was basically a massive storm drain for decades. To stay updated on everything that’s happening with the river, head over here.

The Spree River in Berlin

Since the 1990s, various groups have wanted to clean up a canal off the German capital’s Spree River and create a place for public swimming. The idea has come under the umbrella of the Flussbad project, which advocates transforming the Spree Canal into a swimming area in the city center while also building natural water filters and an ecological regeneration zone.

While the project is still in the planning stages, the organization has conducted water quality studies and raised more than $4.6 million in funding to turn the concept into a reality. The group also has hosted summer swim days in the canal, most recently on July 1, 2018 after testing the water and finding it to be “excellent quality.”

The Willamette River in Portland

Long-time residents of Portland have avoided swimming in the Willamette River for decades, likely because of weekly sewage overflows that created unhealthy, nasty conditions. But the recent completion of a $1.4 billion sewage pipe in 2011 has people reconsidering their options, especially after the city hooked up with a group called the Human Access Project to hold several public swimming events. One of the biggest each year is The Big Float, a river float parade that supports the river’s preservation and gets people on the water.

Swimming in the Willamette downtown is now perfectly safe, and the Human Access Project offers a list of beaches and swim spots in downtown and around the city. There’s even a swim team that swims a lap across the Willamette River and back before or after work, about a half-mile swim in total.

Harbor Baths in Aarhus and Copenhagen

aerial view of harbor bath
Photo by Rasmus Hjortshøj courtesy of BIG

Once terribly polluted, the Port of Copenhagen now hosts several harbor baths that are some of the busiest summer spots in the city. The water was first declared clean enough to swim in 2001, and shortly thereafter the city opened its first harbor pool at Islands Brygge. Quick popularity prompted the city to make the facility permanent, and since then more harbor baths have been added.

The country’s most recent pool is three hours away from Copenhagen in Aarhus, where Bjarke Ingels’ firm BIG designed a floating platform that can host 650 people. The popularity in Danish harbor pools shows just how successful cities can be when reclaiming industrial ports and transforming them into recreational oases.

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Let’s All Swim in the Once-Filthy Canals of Paris

By Feargus O’Sullivan
CityLab

Parisians pack the three pools in the city’s once-fetid Bassin de la Villette. Charles Platiau/Reuters

We’ve all heard promises from cities to make their once-fetid urban waterways swimmable—probably too many. Boston has been pledging to extend the Charles River’s swimmable days for years now, while Berlin’s beautiful plans to turn an arm of the River Spree into a naturally filtered bathing pool remain just that—plans. Baltimore’s proposal to render the oft-garbage-y Inner Harbor swimmable via floating islands of pollution-sucking vegetation and a googly-eyed trash-eating boat are edging ever closer to a 2020 deadline, with limited progress so far, while London’s likeable scheme for a Thames Bath remains the preserve of local enthusiasts rather than actual decision-makers. (Meanwhile, when an environmental activist went for a dip in New York City’s Gowanus Canal in 2015, he had to essentially wear a spacesuit to protect himself from the bacteria-laced toxic soup.)Among all these maybes, could-bes, and never-attempts, one city stands out for actually making things happen: Paris. For years, the French capital has been promising to open up its urban waterways for safe, clean public swimming. This month, it’s done exactly that.On Monday, Paris’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo opened-up new open-air swimming enclosure in the Bassin de la Villette, a basin constructed for barges that links the Canal de l’Ourcq with the Canal Saint-Martinin the city’s inner northeast. In temperatures of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Parisians lined up to splash about the three new pools fed directly from the canal’s waters, separated from the watercourse’s general flow only by filter meshes to keep leaves and other objects out.Up to three hundred people at any time can use the lifeguard-protected pools, although the pools only have locker space for 80. Located in a part of Paris already popular as a place to stroll in fine weather, the new bathing spot is likely to prove a major hit in an already hotter-than-average summer. Early reports suggest that the water is indeed delightful, though a small residuum of green algae does make a post-bathe shower a good idea.

How did Paris pull this off? The city’s been working on cleaning up the waters here for decades. Paris’s canals here were once unsurprisingly filthy, running as they do through a former industrial area once packed with cargo barges and polluted by sewage. Since the 1980s, however, regulations managing industrial run-off have tightened substantially, while Paris has invested heavily in wastewater treatment and in preventing sewage from being discharged into the canal during periods of high water. Two years ago, following a concerted clean-up, bacteria levels dropped below safe levels, and rogue bathers have been jumping in the water here for a while. Meanwhile, the Canal Saint Martin, which runs downstream from the basin down to the Seine, was entirely drained and cleaned in 2016, a process that sent a powerful visual message to Parisians that the area’s historic filth was being swept away.

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Cities aiming to reclaim once-polluted rivers for swimming

By Philip Marcelo
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

They dove in, splashed around and blissfully floated in the murky river water.

Intrepid swimmers got a once-a-year chance to beat the summer heat with a dip in the once-notorious dirty water of Boston’s Charles River on Tuesday.

The annual “City Splash” is one of the few days the state permits public swimming on the city’s stretch of the 80-mile river, which gained notoriety in the Standells’ 1960s hit “Dirty Water.”

The event, now in its fifth year, spotlights the nonprofit Charles River Conservancy’s efforts to build a permanent feature on the river that would allow visitors to enjoy the water without coming in contact with any leftover contaminants. They call it a “swim park,” which would include floating docks for swimmers to safely jump into the river without touching the hazardous bottom. The water quality would be regularly tested.

Nearly 300 people signed up to take the plunge.

“It felt refreshing and wonderful,” said Ira Hart, a Newton, Massachusetts, resident as he hopped out of the river, goggles in hand. “They used to talk about how it was toxic sludge and you’d glow if you came out of the Charles. Well I’m not glowing, at least not yet.”

Boston is among the cities hoping to follow the model of Copenhagen, Denmark, which opened the first of its floating harbor baths in the early 2000s. Paris opened public swimming areas in a once-polluted canal this week, and similar efforts are in the planning stages in New York, London, Berlin, Melbourne and elsewhere.

In Boston, the Charles River Conservancy still needs to raise a few million dollars and garner approvals from state, federal and city agencies.

But S.J. Port, the group’s spokeswoman, said the biggest hurdle already has been overcome: The Charles is now among the cleanest urban rivers in the country.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced this month the river earned a “B” grade for water quality last year, meaning it met the standards for boating 86 percent of the time and 55 percent of the time for swimming. That’s a marked improvement from the “D” the Charles was given in 1995, when cleanup started in earnest, but down from 2015’s “B+” grade.

Here’s a sampling of where other efforts to reclaim urban rivers for swimming stand:

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PORTLAND, OREGON

The city partnered with a local civic group to entice residents to take a dip in the Willamette River this summer.

They opened the first official public beach with lifeguards on the river earlier this month. They’ve also launched a public awareness campaign and scheduled a range of water-centered events.

Among them was last weekend’s Big Float inner tube river parade that drew about 2,500 revelers.

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LONDON

A group of architects, designers and engineers have proposed a series of pools in the middle of the iconic River Thames, where river water would be constantly filtered.

Chris Romer-Lee, a lead organizer of the Thames Baths project, said the group aims to submit plans to local authorities by early 2018.

The group launched an online crowd-funding campaign last year that raised about $182,000 to refine their design but are working to secure almost $19.6 million in outside investment for the project itself.

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NEW YORK

Four local artists and architects launched the idea for +Pool , a floating, filtered pool in the shape of a plus sign in 2010.

Since then, they’ve successfully tested a filtration system that removes bacteria without using chemicals, said Kara Meyer, deputy director for the nonprofit effort.

She said organizers also have raised nearly $2 million to continue developing the project, are exploring potential sites on the East and Hudson rivers and are preparing to seek necessary city approvals.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

The nonprofit Yarra Swim Co. unveiled its concept for a floating pool on the city’s Yarra River at Australia’s Venice Biennale Exhibition last year.

Michael O’Neill, the effort’s co-founder, said the company will be reaching out to community groups and government agencies starting next month to get their feedback on what the Yarra Pools project should offer and to promote its broader vision for use of the river.

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BERLIN

The long-gestating Flussbad project calls for cleaning up a canal off the German capital’s Spree River for public bathing.

Barbara Schindler, a spokeswoman for the effort, said the idea has been around since the 1990s, but has reached notable milestones in recent years.

She said the organization completed a water quality study in 2015 and has received $4.6 million in government funding to hopefully turn the concept into reality.

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Charles River Group Proposes Swim Park, Seeks Public Feedback

Donna Goodison
Boston Herald

The Charles River Conservancy wants swimming enthusiasts to put on their thinking caps for two brainstorming sessions on a proposed swim park in the Charles River.

The nonprofit will host planning meetings March 25 and May 17 to solicit ideas about how people would use the swim park, desired features and the design of the permanent swimming area that’s being pitched for North Point Park, on the Boston-Cambridge border.

A feasibility study determined the site based on criteria including no boat traffic, and access to a public park and public transportation. “Now we are starting to plan what such a swim park looks like,” Conservancy founder and president Renata von Tscharner said.

The Conservancy hopes the swimming area will be at least as large as a 50-meter Olympic-size swimming pool, with an area for laps and training, and a shallow section for families. A base of some kind would serve as a barrier between swimmers and river-bed sediment that poses public health concerns.

“Although you’re swimming in the river water, it’s a contained area,” von Tscharner said.

The Charles is safe to swim in health-wise for most of the year, according to the Conservancy, which bills it as the cleanest U.S. urban river.

“We’re seeing very good swimming opportunities throughout the summer months,” said von Tscharner, who hopes the initiative will help build awareness and lead to further water quality improvements.

“We will have very rigorous testing,” she said. “There are very strict rules by the Department of Public Health in terms of what’s acceptable for water quality.”

A crowd-funding campaign raised $25,000 for a river depth study and preliminary planning, and a team of MBA holders is studying

operation models. The Conservancy will seek funding from foundations, public sources and individuals for the as-yet-undetermined full project cost.

Swimming In The Charles River

By WGBH News

These days, the Charles River has become a completely different type of natural resource. From beer brewing competitions to organized swim days, the river might finally be close to dropping its dirty reputation. With hopes to put a permanent floating dock for swimming near North Point Park, Swimmable Charles Committee Chair Jennifer Gilbert and Desalitech CEO Nadav Efraty (@NadavEfraty) joined Jim to take a closer look at the new face of the Charles River.

Gilbert hopes that the river will soon be swimmable for the whole summer. In the past twenty years, the Charles water has changed from a D to a B+ in rating, marking a tremendous increase in swimmable days throughout the summer.

According to the Swimmable Charles Committee Chair, North Point is a beautiful and under-utilized place, and it makes a lovely template for people and families to enjoy the swim facility. Gilbert said that the Charles is a glorious natural resource, and we should enjoy it however possible.

Desalitech, a water purification company, partnered with Hub Week last year for the “Brew the Charles Contest,” where different breweries competed to make the best beer out of the Charles water. CEO Efraty plans to do it much bigger this year. He noted that people can literally swim in their future beer, an exciting step in bringing awareness of water efficiency to the public.

Efraty notes that people are often unaware of how great of an impact water technology has on the products they consume. Heightening this awareness is key to increasing water efficiency and thinking about alternative resources. While Gilbert notes that the floating dock is a new way to make people “love the river,” Efraty says their efforts have the potential to show the public what modern water technology can do for them.

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Nonprofit calls for permanent swimming area on the Charles

By Steve Annear
Boston Globe

For the past few summers, the Charles River Conservancy has offered swimmers a rare opportunity to steep in the river’s tea-colored water during the surprisingly popular “City
Splash” event.

Now, the nonprofit wants to create a lasting place where runners can stop mid-jog and plunge in, or families can lay down towels and bask in the sun before a cooling dip.

On Tuesday, the conservancy unveiled an ambitious feasibility study, crafted in partnership with the engineering firm Stantec, pinpointing a spot where the organization envisions a permanent swimming facility in a river once known for its dirty water.

The proposal calls for construction of a floating dock near North Point Park with a vegetated edge enclosing the area where people could splash around. The spot on the Boston-Cambridge line, not far from the Museum of Science, would offer sweeping views of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge.

“One of the reasons we love this location is that you can get there in so many ways. You can bike there, you can walk there, you can take the T there,” said Jennifer Gilbert, chairwoman of the conservancy’s Swimmable Charles committee. “It could be as easy as walking out your door . . . and going for a swim.”

In addition to releasing the detailed 74-page study, which included renderings of the swimming structure, the conservancy launched anIndiegogo.com campaign in hopes of raising $25,000 to fund the first stage of the project.

The money would go toward mapping the bottom of the river, analyzing its cloudiness, and regularly sampling its quality.

The nonprofit began work with Stantec, which designed the nearby Lynch Family Skatepark, last fall. Company employees volunteered their expertise to draft the proposal, which they wrapped up this spring.

The study is based on the assumption that water quality and permitting issues will be addressed by the conservancy. The company examined a total of five locations near North Point Park.

The conservancy ultimately settled on a space that’s out of the way of heavy boating traffic and features an existing dock that could be incorporated into the design.

“We wanted to find a piece of park that was ready to facilitate,” said Renata von Tscharner, president of the conservancy.

But creating a dedicated space for swimming in the Charles won’t come without challenges. To achieve its goal, the conservancy will need to work closely with local, state, and federal agencies.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation has jurisdiction of the river and North Point Park. State officials would need to analyze potential operational and construction costs, ensure public safety, and notify various stakeholders, long before a facility could be built.

But DCR was receptive, at least, to the conservancy’s idea.

“The agency welcomes the opportunity to review new and unique proposals that have the potential to increase public interest, particularly [for] first-time visitors, in the state parks system,” spokesman Troy Wall said in a statement.

Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, which has worked for decades to turn the Charles from a polluted water body into the country’s cleanest urban river, said he, too, supported swimming in the river more regularly.

But a number of “significant obstacles” remain, he added, such as addressing stormwater runoff, which leads to E. coli contamination and cyanobacteria in the river that can make people sick.

“The lower basin meets swimming standards between 60 and 70 percent of the time,” he said. “But conversely, that means it doesn’t meet standards 30 to 40 percent of the time. That being said, we are working, and have been for some time, on these issues. We do believe there’s a point in the future that [swimming in the Charles] will happen, but the question is how far out that is.”

Von Tscharner said she understood the roadblocks, but remained optimistic.

“It might not be possible to swim every day of the year, but the days that it is possible, we want to have swimming available so that people can enjoy the river,” she said. “We are looking at our riverfront in a very different way than we did a decade or two decades ago.”

That’s true for Boston City Council President Michelle Wu, and the more than 300 people who signed up for Tuesday’s fourth annual CitySplash swim at a dock on Boston’s Esplanade, across the river and upstream from the proposed site.

Wu, who supports expanding public access to the river, said people think she’s crazy for planning to plunge in, given its history.

“But from my perspective, the Charles River is one of Boston’s treasures,” she said, “and we have to treat it that way.”

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Conservancy Wants You To Be Able To Swim In The Charles River Whenever You Want

By Amy Gorel
WBUR

A Cambridge-based nonprofit has another idea to make “that dirty water” a little more appealing.

The Charles River Conservancy, which hosts its fourth annual City Splash event Tuesday, has been making an effort in recent years to get more residents swimming in the Charles. Now, the conservancy wants to create a permanent floating dock on the river, near North Point Park.

“Due to decades and hundreds of millions of dollars of remediation, Boston and Cambridge are poised to set an example for other American cities by leading the country with a safe and innovative swimming facility that is accessible and beautiful,” Renata von Tscharner, conservancy founder and president, said in a statement.

The river that came to be known for its pollution has undergone a number of cleanups, bringing the Environmental Protection Agency’s report card score up to an A- in 2013 and B+ for 2014.

On Tuesday, the conservancy — along with design firm partner, Stantec — released the results of a feasibility study conducted on the proposed project. The study, which reviewed potential locations, recommends developing the permanent swim spot in North Point Park provided that further tests are done.

The area is an “ideal location,” according to a statement from the conservancy, “because of its generous lawn spaces, direct access to the river, nearby connections to the MBTA, proximity to several Hubway bike rental stations, a playground and spray deck.”

Additionally, the group launched an Indiegogo campaign Tuesday aiming to raise $25,000 to pay for water tests, permits and designs for the dock.

But don’t get your swimmies on yet. Developing the Charles River’s first permanent swimming location will take a long time, and the conservancy estimates it would have a “seven-figure price tag.”

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Will There Soon Be a Swimming Hole Along the Charles River?

By MADELINE BILIS
Boston Magazine

The Charles River Conservancy launched an Indiegogo to help build it.

For the fourth year in a row, a few brave souls are cannonballing into the Charles today.

But soon, swimmers may not have to wait for a CitySplash event to go for a dip in the formerly dirty water. Today, the Charles River Conservancy released a new study addressing the feasibility of installing a permanent swimming facility along the Charles River.

The study, created in partnership with design firm Stantec, proposes a swimming-hole like structure at North Point Park near the Zakim Bridge. The study includes a rendering of the facility and asserts that with continued investment in the Charles’ water quality, a permanent swimming area is indeed feasible.

“Due to decades and hundreds of millions of dollars of remediation, Boston and Cambridge are poised to set an example for other American cities by leading the country with a safe and innovative swimming facility that is accessible and beautiful,” said the conservancy’s founder and president, Renata von Tscharner, in a statement.

“We want to challenge perceptions that the river is filled with dirty water. The Charles River is the cleanest urban river in America—let’s create a place to swim in our river!”

In order to make the swimming area a reality, the conservancy launched an Indiegogo campaign. The goal is to crowdsource $25,000 for further testing, planning, and design of the facility. Donation prizes include a swimming lesson with an Olympic swimmer and a tour of Make Way for Ducklings sculptor Nancy Schon’s studio.

The report details the benefits a swimming area would bring to the area around North Point Park and the nearby the Lynch Family Skatepark, which Stantec designed last year.

“Because of its flexible lawn spaces, direct access to the river, nearby connections to the MBTA, proximity to several Hubway bike rental stations, and proximity to other amenities and new development, North Point Park could be an ideal location for a permanent swimming area on the Charles,” reads the study.

The Boston Globe points out that since the Department of Conservation and Recreation oversees the park and the river, state officials would need to look at construction costs, operational costs, and public safety factors before anything could be built.

Plus, the river has a long way to go in terms of cleanliness before it can be swimmable every day.

“It might not be possible to swim every day of the year, but the days that it is possible, we want to have swimming available so that people can enjoy the river,” Von Tscharner told the Globe. “We are looking at our riverfront in a very different way than we did a decade or two decades ago.”

Robert Zimmerman Jr., executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, echoed that sentiment.

“After years of hard work, we have seen a remarkable resurgence in the health of the river,” he said in a statement. “Work remains, but we know we can get there, to fully restore this beloved natural system for both humans and wildlife.”

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