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Advocacy for the Merrimack River is more important now than ever. Signup for our newsletter and visit our Facebook page to receive Action Alerts about campaigns, legislation, statehouse visits, and round table events with elected officials. In collaboration with our partner network, we tease out the most effective means to address the immediate needs of our watershed within a long-term policy movement towards structural change.
Our Massachusetts priority bills for 2023-24
The Massachusetts Legislature started its 2023-24 session in January, and within a few days more than 6,000 bills were filed. Typically, very few bills make it through the legislative process to become laws. And so, often the bills that pass are the ones that have popular support and are well thought out.
There are several bills in this legislative session that MRWC believes will help make our river cleaner and healthier. We’ve identified 3 issues — covered by 7 bills — that we have prioritized for our outreach efforts. We hope that you will take a look at these bills and consider helping us get them passed!
Here are the three priority issues:
An Act to Create a Merrimack River Collaborative (H.905 and S.586) These bills will help create a commission of Merrimack Valley officials, organizations and residents. The collaborative’s goal is to analyze the Merrimack River’s pollution and climate-related challenges, set priorities, and work together to steer money and resources to fix them.
Currently, there is no such entity that is focused on the Merrimack River. These kinds of coalitions can be extremely successful in uniting behind a common (and fixable) issue, and generating the political clout needed to steer attention and funding. Our region — from Newburyport to Lowell — is diverse, and competes for attention and funding against much larger and better coalesced regions such as Boston. By uniting as a region, we stand a better chance of making our voices heard, and getting the vital work done that we know will benefit our river.
An Act Relative to Further Testing After a CSO Event (H.868 and S.489) These bills would require the state to conduct bacteria tests in the river after Combined Sewer Overflow events occur, and would direct the state to provide more sewer improvement funding to cities where CSOs occur. In our region, CSO events occur after heavy rainstorm in Haverhill, Lowell and Lawrence, resulting in about 500 million gallons of sewage discharge into the Merrimack annually. During years with above normal rainfall, that number can almost double.
Currently, there is no mandatory testing occurring downriver after CSO events, despite the fact that the Merrimack has become one of the state’s most active recreational rivers. CSOs are a manmade problem that can cause serious public health problems. This is a common sense solution to protecting public health and better understanding the impact of CSOs on our river.
An Act Relative to Maintaining Adequate Water Supplies Through Effective Drought Management (H.861, S.475, and S.578) These bills will change the way in which outdoor watering restrictions are enacted during droughts. Instead of having individual communities decide when a water ban should happen, bans will be enacted across watershed regions using stream flow and groundwater data.
Droughts not only dry out the surface ground, but also lower the water table underneath. This has a ripple effect on ponds, streams, rivers, placing tremendous stress on our natural environment. Last summer’s drought saw the Merrimack flowing at a quarter of its normal level, and trees and plants throughout the region suffered harm from abnormally low water tables.
The ban would not apply to certain uses, like farms and vegetable gardens.
ARPA and Infrastructure funds
In recent months the federal government has given billions of dollars to Massachusetts and New Hampshire for a wide variety of spending packages, including upgrades to water and sewer systems. These funds are important to the Merrimack River, as a portion of them can be used to help our older industrial cities (Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Nashua and Manchester) make upgrades that will reduce their Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). Annually, these cities release an average of 500 million gallons of untreated waste into the Merrimack. CSOs are a relic of the how these cities were designed in the 19th through the mid 20th centuries — a time when there were no sewer treatment plants and wastewater was piped directly into the Merrimack. Although all of these cities have sewer plants today, they are not capable of handling the enormous amount of flow that enters sewers during rainstorms.
At MRWC, we are focused on helping these communities receive as much funding as possible to fix their CSO problems. The pricetag is steep — over $400 million in projects have been identified by these communities. Without help from the federal government, the cost of these projects will have to be borne almost entirely by the people who live in these cities. That’s an unfair burden to the people who live in these cities today.