FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT IS A WATERSHED?
A watershed is a land area defined by topography in which water flows from the highest point to the lowest point and contributes to a particular lake, river or other body of water.
WHERE IS THE MYSTIC RIVER WATERSHED?
The Mystic River Watershed covers 76 square miles or roughly 1% of the land area of Massachusetts. It includes all the land area that drains into the Mystic River. Its headwaters begin in Reading, MA and form the Aberjona River, then flow into the Upper Mystic Lake in Winchester. From the Lower Mystic Lake, the Mystic River flows through Arlington, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Chelsea, Charlestown, and East Boston before emptying into Boston Harbor. Explore the Mystic River Watershed using our interactive Environmental Atlas!
The "Lower Mystic River Watershed" refers to the area below the Amelia Earhart Dam in Somerville, which is salt water. Whereas the "Upper Mystic River Watershed" refers to the freshwater area above the Amelia Earhart Dam.
There are 44 lakes and ponds within the Watershed, with Spot Pond being the largest standing body of water at 307 acres in size. The 22 communities within the Mystic River Watershed include:
- Boston (Charlestown & East Boston)
WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE MYSTIC RIVER WATERSHED ASSOCIATION?
The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) was established in 1972 to protect and restore the Mystic River, its tributaries and watershed lands for the benefit of present and future generations and to celebrate the value, importance and great beauty of these natural resources.
WHAT ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES THREATEN THE MYSTIC RIVER WATERSHED?
The Mystic River Watershed is one of the most urban and densely populated watersheds in the Commonwealth. It has three Superfund sites - areas of hazardous waste - within its borders, and is home to various Environmental Justice communities. The Mystic has a history of industry along it's banks - evidence of which continues to linger.
- Poor water quality from stormwater runoff and sewage contamination along Alewife Brook
- Contaminated sediments from a long industrial history (Aberjona River, Malden River)
- Threats to the little remaining open space, throughout the Watershed
- Localized flooding (particularly in Winchester and along Alewife Brook)
- Poor public access to many of the rivers and brooks
- Invasive species, such as water chestnut, impact water quality, species diversity, and habitat quality
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO IMPROVE WATER QUALITY?
Since 2000, MyRWA volunteers have collected water samples throughout the watershed for analysis of bacteria and nutrients. MyRWA boasts three distinct water quality monitoring programs. These include the Baseline Monitoring Program, where volunteers sample at the same 15 locations each month; the Hot-Spot Monitoring Program takes sample intensively along a river or stream; and the Cyanobacteria Monitoring Program monitors cyanobacteria levels, which is used to alert authorities of this potentially harmful bacteria. Using this data MyRWA is able to track changes in water quality over time, identify areas of concern and work with local agencies and municipalities to find solutions. Additionally, MyRWA's data is shared with state and federal agencies, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, to inform legal action. Finally, MyRWA alerts it's members when advocacy opportunities arise to improve local environmental conditions.
WHAT KINDS OF ACTIVITIES ARE AVAILABLE ALONG THE WATERWAYS?
- Swimming at Shannon Beach (Upper Mystic Lake, Winchester), Wedge Pond (Medford)
- Boat rentals are seasonally available at Blessing of the Bay Boathouse, Somerville; Spot Pond, Stoneham; Spy Pond, Arlington
- Canoeing and kayaking is a great way to experience the Mystic! Find a boat launch
- There are more than 12 miles of paths through waterfront parks for walking, running and biking. Find a park
- Birding hotspots include Belle Isle Marsh Reservation, Torbert MacDonald Park, Middlesex Fells Reservation, Horn Pond Recreation Area, Arlington Reservoir, Fresh Pond Reservation and the Mystic Lakes
WHAT WILDLIFE LIVES IN THE MYSTIC RIVER WATERSHED?
The Mystic River Watershed encompasses numerous habitats including forest, meadow, field, wetland, rivers, lakes and ponds, and is therefore home to a wide diversity of wildlife.
- Mammals such as fox, raccoon, muskrat, opossum, white-tailed deer, skunk and coyote.
- Birds, including raptors such as red-tailed hawks and bald eagles, songbirds, shorebirds and wading birds.
- Reptiles, such as garter snakes, painted turtles and snapping turtles.
- Amphibians, such as frogs, toads and salamanders.
- Fish, including blueback herring and alewives that swim upstream from the ocean each year to spawn.
WHAT HAS the mystic river watershed association ACCOMPLISHED?
MyRWA's professional staff work to improve environmental conditions in the watershed. MyRWA works with more than 1,200 volunteers a year, many community groups, agencies, cities and towns and local corporations to bring about change.
The Mystic River Watershed Association:
- Collects and uses water quality data and the latest research to deal with pressing issues. MyRWA, together with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), developed a new grading system for the yearly EPA-issued Mystic River Water Quality Report Card in 2015. The new grading system provides nuanced water quality information based on specific water body.
- Removes 90% of the invasive plant, water chestnut, from the Mystic River in Medford and Somerville each summer. This environmental restoration program began in 2010 and involves 1,000 volunteers annually.
- Connects communities to their watershed—including place-based education in our schools.
- Ensures our parklands are vibrant and used. In 2015, MyRWA received funding to begin the Mystic River Greenways Project, catalyzing the renewal of waterfront park space.
- In 2012, MyRWA launched the Herring Monitoring Program, recruiting a record number of volunteer citizen scientists to help in this effort.
HOW CAN I BECOME INVOLVED WITH MyRWA?
VOLUNTEER. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Mystic River Watershed Association. For the first 27 years of its existence, all programs were volunteer-run! Opportunities for participation include serving on one of MyRWA’s committees (Policy, Clean Water Campaign); volunteering as a water quality or herring monitor; and participating in river and park clean-ups.
DONATE. Together we can we can keep the river, tributaries, lakes, ponds and parks that make up the watershed—healthy and vibrant for today and tomorrow.
Your gift will be put to work:
- Keeping pollution out of our water;
- Revitalizing and connecting parks and pathways;
- Connecting youth and community members to our water; and
- Restoring important habitat.