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The Hunt for Sewer Overflow Data!

Manchester, NH, March 26, 2019

MRWC has been working hard to gather data on a significant pollution problem that impacts the Merrimack River - the periodic release of untreated sewage and stormwater, called Combined Sewage Overflows, or CSOs. This data isn't easy to come by -- to get it, we've filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and spent significant time combing through data and documents. It may surprise you to know that there is no single source  of comprehensive information on the Merrimack's CSO events. We are taking the initiative to change that. 

Earlier this week, Executive Director Rusty Russell went to the Manchester, NH sewage treatment plant to examine records related to the plant's CSO. In a typical year, Manchester accounts for about half of the CSO volume that is dumped into the river, yet data on Manchester's CSO events prior to 2013 isn't readily available. 

To learn more about Manchester, NH CSO, please read Rusty's March 25 Op-Ed in the NH Union leader here.  

For more on CSOs generally, please see our CSO page

Recap of 2019 Annual Meeting

Stark Brewing Co., Manchester, NH
March 7, 2019

 We  had a packed house for our annual meeting on March 7 at the Stark Brewing Co. in Manchester, N.H! 

Executive Director Rusty Russell filled the group in on MRWC's 2018 accomplishments and focus areas for 2019, and Jerry Monkman, eco-cinematographer and photographer, gave us a sneak preview of some of the dramatic footage he's shot for his upcoming feature-length film, "The Merrimack - River at Risk", as well as behind-the-scenes details of how the film is being made.  You can see the trailer for Jerry's film by clicking below. 

View "The Merrimack -  River at Risk " Trailer

Mass. lawmakers file bills to protect Merrimack River

January 28, 2019

The Massachusetts Legislature has just started its 2019-2020 legislative session, and it’s clear that one of the issues that will be getting attention is sewage pollution in the Merrimack River. Three bills have been filed that call for sewage treatment plants to alert the public whenever sewage is dumped into the Merrimack River. This dumping of sewage is called a Combined Sewer Overflow, or CSO. It commonly happens during heavy rainstorms, when stormwater enters sewer pipes and creates more volume than the wastewater treatment plant can process. Last year, at least 770 million gallons of CSO water was released into the Merrimack — the largest amount since 2011.  For more background on the CSO issue, please see our CSO page here.

Three other bills related to Merrimack River pollution have also been filed — two that would create study commissions, and one that would require all Massachusetts sewage plants to have adequate backup power generators. (For a description of each bill, see below.)

At the Merrimack River Watershed Council, we are glad to see that so much attention is being placed on the CSO issue. We spent much of 2018 working on a major public education campaign that included public forums, newspaper, TV and radio interviews, social media postings, and many meetings with sewage plant operators and local, state and federal officials. What started as an uphill battle has changed into a groundswell of concern, support and action. If you are reading this email, no doubt this is an issue that you take to heart — thank you! Your involvement has made a tremendous difference!

What’s happening at the Massachusetts Statehouse? Read on below  for a look at what's been filed. 

There are 4 sewage treatment plants in the Merrimack River watershed that would be subject to these bills — Haverhill, greater Lawrence, Lowell and Fitchburg. The other 2 plants in the watershed that have CSO events — Nashua and Manchester — would not be affected because they are in New Hampshire. So far this year, no bills have been filed in the New Hampshire legislature regarding CSO notifications. We will keep you updated as developments occur. Thanks for being involved! 

Bills filed in the Massachusetts State House - as of March 4, 2019

An Act promoting awareness of sewage pollution in public waters

These essentially are identical refiled and updated versions of a comprehensive bill that passed the Senate last year, but was not taken up in the House.  The bills call for sewage treatment plants to notify the public within 2 hours of a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).  The public will be notified by email, websites, or similar means.  They also require sewage plants to do a better job tracking how much sewage is released, and require the state to maintain more comprehensive public records of CSO incidents. The bills apply to all rivers in Massachusetts that suffer from CSOs—including the Merrimack, Connecticut, Charles, Mystic, and Taunton rivers.  The Senate version (S. 490) was filed by Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, the Assistant Majority Leader, and the House version (H. 751) by state Reps. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, and Denise Provost, D-Somerville.  The former has 34 legislative co-sponsors and the latter, 69 co-sponsors.  Both bills were referred to the legislature's Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

An Act relative to notification of potential water pollution in the Merrimack River

This bill (S. 458), filed by newly elected state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, calls for the creation of a color-coded “flagging” system along the Merrimack River.  The state will create the flag system based on the level of CSO pollution in the river.  The flag that reflects the current warning level will be flown at well-used public access points, such as boat ramps.  The state will also create a “mobile notification system” to which people can subscribe to find out what flag is being flown.  This bill has three co-sponsors.  It was also referred to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

An Act to create a Merrimack River District Commission

Also filed by Sen. DiZoglio, this bill (S. 457) would create a commission to review the health of the Merrimack River and recommend ways to address perceived problems.  The commission would include state and local officials, as well as such river advocates as the Merrimack River Watershed Council.  The commission would be required to produce a report within one year of its establishment.  This bill has four co-sponsors.  It was also referred to the Joint Committee on Environment.

An Act to establish a Merrimack Valley River District Council

This bill (H. 1809), filed by newly-elected Rep. Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover, also would form an official body to study and report on the state of the river.  Within 15 months of its creation, it would be required to file a report, making recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  The council would include a voting member from each Massachusetts municipality bordering the Merrimack, and non-voting representatives from the three adjacent sewage treatment plants and from the Merrimack River Watershed Council.  This bill has three co-sponsors.  It was referred to the legislature's Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government.

An Act relative to combined sewer overflow

Filed by Reps. Kelcourse and Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, this bill (H. 820) would require the DEP to establish regulations regarding public notification of CSO events.  The bill does not contain any specific standards or guidelines, but rather calls upon the department to set them relying on its own judgment, in concert with that of other state agencies and municipalities.  With eight co-sponsors, this bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Environment.

An Act requiring reserve electric power at wastewater treatment facilities

Proposed by Rep. Campbell, this bill (H. 752) would require that all sewage treatment plants in Massachusetts have sufficient back-up generation on site to fully operate during any unanticipated electricity blackout or other power failure.  This bill was filed in direct response to just such a power failure at the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District plant in North Andover that on Oct. 30, 2017 caused the facility to release tens of millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Merrimack River.  This bill has eleven co-sponsors.  It was also referred to the Joint Committee on Environment.

Newburyport, Massachusetts, December 7, 2018

 2018 State of the Waters: Conference Recap

In what ways will climate change affect the Merrimack Valley and Merrimack River watershed, and are we preparing for those changes?

That was the general focus of the Merrimack River Watershed Council’s recent day-long conference in Newburyport. It was our third annual State of the Waters conference, an event that drew over 80 public officials, environmentalists, and concerned citizens from throughout the region.

Our goal was to present scientific data on climate change’s impact on the Merrimack and its watershed’s cities and towns; share information and ideas on resiliency planning; and build closer connections between the citizens and officials who are interested in preparing for climate change.

Please click here for a recap of the event.