One step closer to swimming in the Charles River?

By Steve Annear
Boston Globe

A leap from the dock at a permanent swimming facility built along the Charles River could still be years away. But that summertime fantasy is one small step closer to becoming reality, river advocates say.

The nonprofit Charles River Conservancy announced Friday that it had surpassed its fund-raising goal of $25,000, and can now forge ahead with research on the feasibility of creating a lasting swimming spot. The group, which spearheaded efforts to build the Lynch Family Skate Park, envisions installing a floating dock near North Point Park in Cambridge.

“People can still donate. Anything beyond this is icing on the cake for the first layer of fund-raising for this project,” said conservancy spokeswoman S.J. Port. “We are thrilled. We are over the moon to have hit that goal.”

The money raised by 287 donors, through an online campaign on Indiegogo, will fund the technical aspects of the project, including conducting bathymetric (depth) testing, water quality testing, and turbidity (cloudiness) testing, officials said.

The conservancy announced plans for its ambitious project in July, releasing a preliminary study and facility renderings crafted in partnership with the engineering firm, Stantec.

But creating a place on the Charles River for people to splash around will be a long process with a hefty price tag — one that’s likely to hit seven figures.

There are also other challenges ahead. The Department of Conservation and Recreation has jurisdiction of the river and North Point Park. That means state officials would need to analyze potential operational and construction costs, ensure public safety, and notify various stakeholders before the first person gets in the water.

And then there are the water quality issues. Although the river has made huge strides in recent decades, pulling away from its association with songs like the Standells’ “Dirty Water,” bacteria caused by stormwater runoff remains a cause for concern.

On Friday, an advisory was still in effect after the Charles River Watershed Association announced Aug. 30 that parts of the lower river had tested positive for cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, which can be potentially harmful to people and animals.

The state does water quality testing weekly at certain points along the river. The results of the latest sample, taken Wednesday, have not come back yet.

Elisabeth Cianciola, an aquatic scientist for the watershed association, said this is the first cyanobacteria bloom recorded this summer, and months had gone by without any health threats to the public.

“We typically see them this time of the year, in late August and early September, because it’s normally when we have dry weather,” she said. “Once we have a bloom, it stays in effect until the water temperatures begin to drop.”

Cianciola said a permanent swimming area in the Charles “is something we would like to see,” but it could be years before it happens.

“Realistically, there are a lot of different pieces that would need to fall into place,” she said.

Conservancy officials say they’re well aware of the obstacles in their path — but those roadblocks won’t slow them down.

“Every body of water — every part of nature, to be more complete — has its challenges. Challenges don’t frighten us; a lack of interest and engagement would frighten us,” said Port in a followup e-mail. “The Indiegogo campaign proved that people are engaged and supportive of the idea and want to return swimming to the Charles River.”

Read article online