In the 1950’s, public swimming in Boston’s Charles River was banned due to the high level of pollutants. On July 13, 2013, the “first public swim” was conducted by the Charles River Conservancy, the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA), and the Esplanade Association.
Robert “Bob” Zimmerman Jr., executive director of the CRWA, who received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English literature, gave a community talk at the Laredo Public Library on October 13, 2016, as part of the 22nd annual Dia del Rio celebration.
His talk focused on the five principles of water transformation:
1. Restore Nature 2. Resource to Waste to Resource 3. Keep Water Local 4. Flexibility-Adaptability-Interconnectedness 5. Promote and Support Rich Diversity.
He tied CRWA science, engineering, and field stories on the restoration of the Charles River, as well as Boston water infrastructure, to those principals and the results of his organization’s work in Boston. The focus was on how they painstakingly and successfully revitalized the once forgotten, neglected, and highly contaminated Charles River into a public and cultural amenity that is now safe for swimming, boating and recreation.
Zimmerman discussed CRWA’s transformative philosophical approach to water, infrastructure and social and environmental justice - one firmly tied to the natural history, and cultural and social history of a region and the Charles River watershed basin. Significant elements of their work include social welfare economics, and progressive engineering to live with the Earth, rather than on the Earth.
His talk served as a case study that can be applied to the Rio Grande in Laredo – and the ever-shifting collective view of this river. The Rio Grande is an equally important natural resource for our border community and has long suffered from pollution, militarization, and neglect. It still ranks as one of the 10 Most Endangered Rivers in the World (World Wildlife Fund.)
The condition of the two rivers, the Charles and the Rio Grande, symbolize deep cultural facets within our respective New England and Texas border communities, both as life-giving sources and iconic landmarks in the collective memory of city residents. They also represent politically-driven budgetary and regulatory choices that have serious consequences for people, wildlife, property and our future. Our South Texas river community can learn much from the Boston experience.
For more information about the CRWA and their work, please visit their website by clicking on the link below.