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Lawsuit alleges EPA failing to protect major rivers

A woman kayaks in the Charles River. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A woman kayaks in the Charles River. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A pair of groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Environmental Protection Agency, saying the federal government hasn't delivered on its plans to help protect three Massachusetts rivers from pollution associated with stormwater runoff.

The Conservation Law Foundation and Charles River Watershed Association said their federal lawsuit was filed because the EPA has not issued permits aimed at reducing stormwater pollution into the Charles, Mystic and Neponset rivers. The groups said the lack of regulation has contributed to toxic algae blooms.

The EPA in September announced that polluters in watersheds around the three rivers will be required to comply with a Clean Water Act permit to reduce stormwater runoff, but the agency has not issued the permits, the groups said.

"The EPA must move quickly. Stormwater runoff is increasing as rainfall gets heavier with climate change, adding more pollution to our rivers," said Emily Norton, CRWA's Executive Director. "The Charles River is clearly suffering, as CRWA's monitoring of toxic algal blooms and water quality shows."

The groups say that stormwater runoff from private properties with large paved surfaces, like big box stores, strip malls, private universities, and major apartment complexes, was not previously regulated by EPA, and allege those properties contribute a disproportionate amount of polluted runoff to rivers.

"These iconic rivers are suffering because of the EPA's consistent foot-dragging," said Heather Govern of CLF. "Despite all the evidence linking stormwater pollution to dirty and unsafe water, the agency has failed to take legally required steps to address this growing problem. We have waited over three years for them to regulate the pollution, and these rivers cannot wait any longer."

The 25-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court and lists EPA Administrator Michael Regan and Regional Administrator David Cash as defendants.

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