The Boston Foundation and the Cleanup of Boston Harbor

Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society (Duke)



Case Study Sector


Since its founding in the seventeenth century, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, had relied upon its harbor for economic growth and turned to it for recreation. But starting with the Puritans, who dumped their household waste directly into the harbor, maintaining water quality was a problem. The city’s first storm sewers, built in 1820, carried rainwater and raw sewage to the harbor and were soon judged to be inadequate. As the metropolitan region grew and ever greater amounts of waste flowed through the sewers, there never seemed to be time or money enough to overhaul the system as a whole.
In December of 1982, the city of Quincy filed a lawsuit against the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) in state court, charging that the agencies had violated the Massachusetts Clean Water Act; the suit also charged the agencies with violating laws requiring the maintenance of proper sewers and prohibiting the discharge of pollutants into coastal waters.
The next year, the Boston Foundation awarded the Conservation Law Foundation $15,000 to support its parallel suit against the MDC and the EPA—a small amount, seemingly, but still a grant equal in size to the CLF’s annual budget of just a few years previous. . . .



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