By Eric Jay Dolin
(University of Massachusetts Press, 240 pp., 40 illus., ISBN: 1558494456 , $37.50 )
A lively account of the centuries-long struggle to clean up one of the nations most polluted bodies of water Boston Harbor has always been Americas harbor. It served as a colonial gateway to the world, witnessed the Boston Tea Party, and helped Boston transform itself from an outpost of a few hardy settlers into a bustling metropolis and self-proclaimed hub of the universe. Yet for hundreds of years, Boston Harbor was also a cesspool. Long before Bostonians dumped tea into the harbor to protest English taxes, they dumped sewage there. As the Boston area grew and prospered, its sewage problems worsened, as did the harbors health, to the point where in the 1980s it was considered the most polluted harbor in the country and ridiculed as the harbor of shame. Then, in one of the most impressive environmental comebacks in American history, Boston Harbor was dramatically cleaned up. All it took was two lawsuits, two courts, dozens of lawyers, the creation of a powerful sewage authority, thousands of workers, millions of labor hours, and billions of dollars. Sewage management is rarely as compelling and exciting as higher profile environmental issues such as global climate change, preserving endangered species, or protecting tropical rainforests. But it can be. Bostons struggle to deal with its sewage is an epic story of failure and success, replete with colorful characters, political, bureaucratic, and legal twists and turns, engineering feats, and massive amounts of money. In the end, success hinged on the often overlooked yet monumentally important act of responsibly disposing of the waste people produce every day. Selected as one of "The Best of the Best from the University Presses: Books You Should Know About," by the American Library Association (2005).
"The Boston Harbor Project is a rare environmental success story that proves the power of a few committed, courageous individuals. Mr. Dolins work shows the political history of how our harbor went from beautiful to polluted and then back to the clean, sparkling, natural resource that is our childrens legacy."
"Most welcome history of the Boston Harbor Project . . . Provides a lasting contribution to the historical record."
"Boston Harbor is Americas harbor, says environmental author Dolin in this sprightly account of its history and cleanup . . . Drawing on extensive quotes from a variety of primary sources, Dolin details how in one of the most impressive environmental cleanups in U.S. history, the harbor was restored. It took just two lawsuits, the creation of a sewage authority, billions of dollars, and many individuals, including Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and Republican candidate George Bush, who exchanged jibes over the harbor. Recommended for libraries with environmental, law, and urban history collections."
"Eric Dolin does an exceptional job of bringing the history of Boston Harbor to life and describing the dramatic development and evolution of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. The book is very well written and entertaining, and is an excellent addition to the literature on the cleanup of Boston Harbor."
"An extremely well researched and comprehensive overview of the cleanup of Boston Harbor. Dolins work will be of valuable assistance for researchers and numerous others for years to come."
"Its hard to conveniently peg Political Waters: The Long, Dirty, Contentious, Incredibly Expensive, But Eventually Triumphant History Of Boston Harbor: A Unique Environmental Success Story is at once a political history of Boston and its harbor, as well as a story of urban planning and environmental success. Political Waters charts some stormy seas indeed as Boston spent literally centuries working to clean up its reputation as having one of the nations most polluted bodies of water. Political Waters presents a semi-scholarly assessment of this process and is a highly recommended addition to Environmental Studies reference collections and reading lists."
"A superior case study of policy implementation. It deserves wide readership among those interested in contemporary Massachusetts politics, and, specifically, the history of Boston Harbor."
"Political Waters treats an important yet neglected subject. No other single volume covers this history so completely."
"Eric Jay Dolin offers a lively accounting of one of the nation's largest, most expensive, technically complex, and politically controversial public works projects. . . . Dolin succeeds in giving the reader a sense of the big issues at hand. Equally important, he goes beyond personalities like federal judge David Mazzone to show long-standing institutional arrangements like federalism, the incentives that motivate political actors, and the impact of law on policymaking. The result is a good analysis of a complicated political controversy."
"[former Governor, Michael] Dukakis should be pleased with Political Waters, in which Eric Jay Dolin tells the story of the harbor cleanup, tells why it has been a success, and explains that it is not yet done. . . . we have a lot to learn from the Boston Harbor cleanup, and Political Waters is worth reading on that count alone. That Dolin tells such a good story is a bonus"
Dirty Water, Clean Water
Boston Harbor is Americas harbor. It served as a colonial gateway to the world, witnessed the Boston Tea Party, and helped Boston transform itself from an outpost of a few hardy settlers into a bustling metropolis and self-proclaimed hub of the universe. For hundreds of years, Boston Harbor was also a cesspool. Long before Bostonians dumped tea into the harbor to protest English taxes, they dumped sewage there. As the Boston area grew and prospered, its sewage problems worsened, as did the harbors health, up to the point where in the 1980s the harbor was considered the most polluted in the country and often ridiculed as the harbor of shame. Then, in one of the most impressive environmental comebacks in American history, the harbor was dramatically cleaned up. And all it took was two lawsuits, two courts, dozens of lawyers, the creation of a powerful sewage authority, thousands of workers, millions of labor hours, and billions of dollars. Although sewage courses through the veins of Bostons history, few of the books written about the city do more than briefly mention this. That is understandable. After all, sewage, which broadly consists of human and other organic and non-organic wastes, is not the most pleasant topic. Yet, the way in which the Boston area has managed and mismanaged its sewage is a fascinating story. Soon after the colonists arrived they started building sewers, and Bostonians and their neighbors have been building sewers ever since. Throughout that entire period, the topic of sewage and what to do with it has floated in and out of the publics consciousness. There have been times when the sewage question was largely ignored or just one of many issues vying for attention. At other times sewage has risen high on the publics agenda. In that way the history of sewage in Boston presents a portrait of punctuated equilibrium in which periods of relative calm have been disturbed by eruptions of fear, disgust, outrage, anger, and ultimately action. From the founding of Boston in 1630 up through the mid-1800s, the sewage question, while ever present, hardly ever became a major issue. The main exception was at the end of the 1700s and into the early 1800s, when fears that disease was being transmitted by gaseous emanations from decomposing waste caused local heath organizations and politicians to enact measures aimed at improving the collection and disposal of sewage. The next major sewage crisis occurred in the 1870s. Hundreds of years of private initiative and less than fifty years of municipal oversight, gave Boston a haphazard, somewhat ad-hoc system of sewers, many of which did a miserable job of performing the task for which they were designed — transporting waste away from homes and businesses down to the harbors edge. In the parts of the city that had sewers, the sanitary conditions were often atrocious, and where sewers had yet to reach, conditions were even worse. Overflowing sewer pipes and puddles of sewage in peoples homes and in the streets were common occurrences. And when the sewage did reach the harbors edge it collected in the shallow waters, where it decayed, giving off a horrible stench. The greatest concern was, as it had been during the previous crisis, that the continuation of such conditions would lead to outbreaks of disease, a notion that was given added credence by the recent sanitary awakening that had more firmly established the connection between poor sanitation and ill-health. The local medical community, sanitary engineers, and the general public demanded change and they got it in 1884, when Boston finished building a labyrinthine network of sewers that were designed to collect the regions sewage and carry it, virtually untreated, to discharge points at the bottom of Boston Harbor. Over the next twenty years, two other similar networks of sewers were built to the north and south of the city. The consensus at the time was that by collecting the areas sewage and consigning it to the depths of the harbor, the problems that led to the construction of the three sewage systems would be resolved. On the issue of disposal, in particular, sanitarians and engineers believed that the harbors great volume, combined with daily tides, would quickly disperse and render innocuous the daily deluge of waste generated by local inhabitants. The new sewage systems greatly improved the removal of sewage from the cities and towns but confidence in the harbors powers of dilution prove unfounded and led to the next sewage crisis. This one resulted in the construction of two sewage plants designed to provide a low level of treatment to the sewage before it was discharged to the harbor. But hese plants failed to solve the areas sewage question, and as the local population swelled, the already miserable state of the harbor got worse. It got so bad, in fact, that the greatest sewage crises in the history of the Boston area was precipitated, the resolution of which resulted in the cleanup I described at the beginning. Sewage management is rarely as compelling and exciting as higher-profile environmental issues such as global climate change, preserving endangered species, or protecting tropical rainforestsbut, as the history of the Boston area shows, it can be. That areas struggle to deal with its sewage created an epic story of failure and success, replete with colorful characters, political, bureaucratic, and legal twists and turns, and engineering feats, as well as massive amounts of money. And, in the end, it all hinged on the often overlooked, yet monumentally important act of getting rid responsibly of the waste people produce every day.