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CSO Updates 

December 14, 2019 —Sewage discharge alert: MRWC has received reports of sewage discharges into the Merrimack River from 4 treatment plants, a result of heavy rains that fell this morning. Treatment plants serving greater Lowell, greater Lawrence, Manchester, N.H., and Nashua N.H. reported discharges of an unknown quantity of untreated sewage into the Merrimack. Haverhill's sewage plant has not yet reported a discharge; we will update this alert when Haverhill releases information. These sewage discharges, known as Combined Sewage Overflows (CSOs), occur during heavy rainstorms. The plants are not able to handle the heavy flow, and are allowed by the EPA to release excess sewage into the Merrimack. Health officials recommend that people avoid direct contact with river water for 48 hours after a sewage release.

December 10, 2019 — Sewage discharge alert: The city of Haverhill has announced it has discharged sewage into the Merrimack River as a result of heavy rain that fell on Monday. An unknown amount of sewage was released from an outflow pipe located along the Little River. Haverhill reported .74 inches of rain fell during the storm. No other plants MRWC has been keeping track of report Combined Sewage Overflows throughout the year. Based on the data we have received thus far, we estimate about 650 to 750 million gallons of sewage has been released into the Merrimack thus far in 2019. That's a notable reduction from 2018's 848 million gallons. By late January -- once every plant has filed its sewage overflow report -- we expect to have an accurate tally for 2019.

November 25, 2019 — Sewage discharge alert: One sewage treatment plant reported a combined sewage overflow (CSO) during Sunday's rainstorm. The Lowell Regional Wastewater Utility reported a CSO discharge that began at 2:50 p.m. and ended at 4:22 p.m. The amount of sewage released into the Merrimack River has not been reported yet. Typically, Lowell issues a volume report about 10 days after a CSO event. No other sewage plant along the Merrimack has reported a CSO due to yesterday's rainstorm. MRWC will update this post as more information is released.

October 27, 2019 — Two wastewater treatment plants have reported releasing sewage into the Merrimack River during the rainstorm that impacted the region. Manchester, N.H., and Lowell both reported releases; neither has data available on how much sewage was discharged. Lowell's discharge began at 3:40 p.m. and ended at 8:12 p.m. Health officials recommend that people avoid primary contact with river water (i.e., swimming or immersion) for 48 hours after a sewage discharge. While there likely aren't any human swimmers in the Merrimack at this time of year, people who let their dogs swim in the river should keep them out of the Merrimack for the next 48 hours.

October 8, 2019 — Two sewage plants reported what appear to be brief and likely light sewage discharges into the Merrimack as a result of last night's rainstorm. The Lowell sewage treatment plant reported a discharge that began at 10:11 p.m. and lasted 27 minutes. This is a short duration for a Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO) event. The Haverhill sewage plant reported a discharge from 2 of its 15 outflow pipes. While neither plant has calculated the amount of sewage discharged, the discharge period appear to be brief and the MRWC anticipates the flow into the river was small. About .75 inches of rain fell overnight, according to the Haverhill plant.

August 13, 2019 — The City of Haverhill experienced CSO activations on August 13, due to rainfall and high flow. These CSOs were activated based upon current CSO flow meters. Health experts suggest avoiding direct contact with contaminated water for 48 hours. The Merrimack River Watershed Council is working hard to provide timely notice of CSO releases, test the river at 6 locations and work with our elected officials to help secure funding to fix the issues. We could use your help! If you are not a member, become one today by joining us!

August 8, 2019: Five wastewater treatment plants have reported releasing sewage and storm water into the Merrimack during last night's heavy rainstorm. We have no information at this time on how much sewage was released into the river, however, this appears to be a significant CSO event due to the number of plants that have released. Health officials advise that direct contact (i.e., swimming) should be avoided for 48 hours after a CSO discharge. Dog owners should also refrain from letting their dogs swim in the river during that period. The Lowell wastewater plant reported a 5-hour long release, which began at 9:56 p.m. and ended at 3:11 a.m. (Lowell also had an hourlong release earlier in the day). Haverhill reported releases from 9 of its 15 overflow pipes. The Greater Lawrence Sanitary District and Nashua sewage treatment plants reported "probable" releases, with Nashua reporting probable releases from 3 of its 9 outflow pipes. Each plant has a different method of reporting CSOs, thus the reason why the data we present in this alert is different for each plant. Manchester's sewage treatment plant -- the largest single source of CSO pollutants in the Merrimack -- does not alert the public when it releases sewage into the river. However, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services confirmed to MRWC that Manchester released sewage during the storm Last night's storm dropped a significant amount of rainfall on the region. Haverhill reported 2.25 inches.

July 17, 2019 — Three wastewater treatment plants have reported sewage overflows due to intense rainstorms that struck the Merrimack Valley Wednesday, however the releases appear to be minor in quantity. The Lowell plant reported its sewage overflow activated at 4:24 pm. and ended at 5:25 pm. No volume total has been reported. Greater Lawrence also reported a sewage overflow activation (start and end time was not reported), resulting in 429,000 gallons released into the river. That is a relatively minor release. Haverhill also reported a release from 12 of its 15 outflow pipes. No volume total was reported. Health officials recommend that people avoid swimming in the river for 48 hours after a sewage release. WCVB tv reported .58 inches of rain fell on the Lawrence area during the brief but intense storm.

July 12, 2019 -- Four sewage treatment plants reported actual or "probable" sewage discharges into the Merrimack River during the intense rainstorms that struck the region over the past 24 hours. The quantity of sewage that was released has not yet been fully calculated. However, given the number of plants that have likely released sewage, the MRWC recommends that residents heed state Department of Health advice and avoid direct contact with the Merrimack (i.e., swimming) for 48 hours.

Plants in Lowell and Haverhill sent out email advisories stating that overflows had occurred. In Lowell, there were three periods of overflows -- from 2:54 to 4:23 pm on Thursday, and 3 to 4:40 am and 9:20 to 9:49 am on Friday. In Haverhill, 10 of the city's 15 sewage overflow pipes activated, which typically indicates a moderate flow into the river. Greater Lawrence (GLSD) reported 5 million gallons were released, which is a relatively light volume for a CSO event at GLSD. Nashua reported "probable" sewage discharges. Nashua reported that all nine of its sewage overflow pipes likely activated.

The sewage treatment plant in Manchester, N.H., which is the largest single source of CSO overflow into the Merrimack, does not issue public reports when CSO events occur. Thus, it is unknown whether sewage was discharged from Manchester. The MRWC has been working on efforts to require that Manchester issue public alerts. Currently, Manchester publicly issues a single annual report on CSO activations every January 15th.

Voyagers complete 117-mile trek down the Merrimack!

A group of local community leaders, including MRWC Board President Dan Graovac, recently kayaked the length of the Merrimack from Franklin, NH to Plum Island, MA to highlight the Merrimack's importance as a recreational, ecological and economic asset to our region. Check out Dan's video summary here and read local media coverage of the trip here.

For more pictures of the trip, check out the hashtag #MRVVoyagers on Instagram or our Facebook page.



Some of the voyagers!



A bald eagle along the Upper Merrimack - one of several the group saw. 



Bipartisan kayaking: State Rep. James Kelcourse and State Sen. Diana DiZoglio!

Our River: Riverwalk Brewery Podcast with MRWC Board President Dan Graovac

Check out Episode 7 of Riverwalk Brewery's "Behind the Label" podcast! The folks from Newburyport's Riverwalk Brewery sit down with MRWC Board President Dan Graovac to talk about the Merrimack's economic, recreational and ecological importance to our region and efforts to address the challenges facing the river. 

MRWC asks Manchester, NH to Step up Sewage Overflow Reporting

Read more here.

"What we’re asking is for Manchester to meet the standard that the other plants along the Merrimack River are already meeting, and that is to simply alert the public whenever they release sewage into the Merrimack River. The other plants are trying to release information within a few hours. Manchester only releases its information once per year.”

 --John Macone, MRWC outreach coordinator 

June 20, 2019 Sewage Overflow

Lowell and Haverhill sewage treatment plants report overflows

MRWC has received a report of a sewage overflow at the Lowell and Haverhill municipal sewage treatment plants, due to heavy rains on Thursday, June 20. In Lowell the overflow lasted about an hour, from 5:07 pm to 6:14 pm. in Haverhill, 6 of the city's 15 overflow pipes activated, typically a sign of a moderate overflow. It's not known how much sewage entered the river, nor how much bacteria entered the river as those figures won't be released for some time. About an inch of rain fell during Thursday's storm.

Generally, it can take 2-3 days for discharged sewage to clear the river. With excellent weather forecast for this weekend, keep in mind that public health officials recommend avoiding primary contact recreation (swimming) following CSO discharges.

Newburyport Daily News

Warning Issued after Sewage Discharge into the Merrimack 
by Jim Sullivan

Progress on Combined Sewage Overflows!

Lori Trahan introduces Stop Sewage Overflow Act to address Merrimack CSOs

 Many thanks to Congresswoman Lori Trahan, who is taking effective action to reduce pollution in the Merrimack River. She is focusing her efforts on a vital issue - getting federal funding to help pay for upgrades to sewage treatment plants and stormwater pipe infrastructure. This is the only realistic way to fix the problem of sewage overflows. Read more about Trahan's Stop Sewage Overflow Act here

A presentation by MRWC's John Macone

Merrimack River Evolution: From Ice Age to Internet Age

Over the past 2 months, MRWC has hosted 4 viewings of our slideshow presentation "Merrimack River Evolution: From Ice Age to Internet Age." Many folks who haven't been able to attend have asked us to post it online. Here it is, thanks to our friends at Newburyport's Port Media. If you are interested in having this presentation given at a school or at a non-profit event, please email [email protected].

MRWC Earth Day Cleanup

Pemberton Park, Lawrence, MA - April 22

We celebrated Earth Day with a cleanup of Lawrence's scenic and historic Pemberton Park! Thanks to Mission Dispensaries and Endurance International Group for sending their employees to help, and to Mike Mitchell at Mass DCR, Lawrence Heritage State Park for joining us and picking up all the bags of trash and recyclables we collected.  It was a great team effort for this wonderful park in our hometown of Lawrence.  Stay tuned for more cleanup events along the Merrimack this spring and summer!

A Winter to Crow About

Celebrating the Lawrence Winter Crow Roost

Every winter, the banks of the Merrimack in Lawrence host a nightly roost of tens of thousands of crows. Seeing (and hearing!) as many as 20,000 crows converge on the roosting location at sunset is an awe-inspiring experience. This winter, thanks to collaboration with other area non-profits and crow enthusiasts, MRWC was able to share this amazing natural phenomenon with almost 100 people.

Our February event, “River in the Sky – Our Merrimack of Wintering Crows” was a collaboration between MRWC, Essex Art Center (EAC), the Andover Village Improvement Society (AVIS), and the Merrimack Valley Bird Club. Almost 50 participants gathered at EAC to enjoy a display of crow themed art and photographs, followed by a presentation by veteran crow-watchers and “Crow Patrol” founders Dana and Bob Fox, who provided insight on crow behavior and biology and shared experiences from their years of observing the Lawrence crows. The group then convoyed to the Bashara Boathouse, where the crows put on a magnificent sunset display. Noted bird photographer and Crow Patrol member Craig Gibson was also on hand to share his enthusiasm for the crows and take some fabulous pictures, including the one shown here!

Due to significant interest in the February event, we arranged a second, less formal event in early March– a “Crows & Cocoa Meetup” hosted by MRWC and led by Craig Gibson. About 50 participants gathered at sunset at the Bashara Boathouse to enjoy hot cocoa and await the crows. Once Craig pinpointed the crows’ location, the group walked from the Boathouse to some tall trees in Riverfront State Park, where we found ourselves right in the midst of a gathering of thousands of raucous crows! This second event was attended by a number of families with kids, which was wonderful - we’re always happy to see our Merrimack Valley youngsters outside enjoying the many gifts the Merrimack brings, including the crows!

In April, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in Museum Open House with Jay Sugarman on Newton Community TV.  MRWC volunteer Lara Mataac joined EAC director Cathy McLaurin, Craig Gibson, and Matt Morin of Groundwork Lawrence for a great conversation with Jay about the EAC art exhibit and the crow-themed community activities it generated, including our crow outings! You can see the video here

We are planning more crow-related events for next winter. Among other things, in partnership with Craig Gibson and others, we hope to do more collaboration with local schools on crow-related educational programs. If you are an educator or just want to be part of spreading the word about the Lawrence crows, please reach out at [email protected]

A Win for our River

We've been waging a multi-pronged effort to protect the Merrimack from sewage overflows, and on March 28, notched a significant achievement - the State of Massachusetts agreed to help pay for a back-up generator for the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District. The generator is a response to a weakness in the plant's design that made front page news in October 2017, when a massive storm lead to a power failure, and the plant released over 9 million gallons of untreated sewage into the river. The measure was passed thanks to a strong coalition of Merrimack Valley lawmakers - Sens. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, and Barry Finegold, D-Andover, and Reps. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, Frank Moran, D-Lawrence, and Christina Minicucci, D-North Andover. Great news! A link to the Eagle-Tribune article is below.  

Grant will buy backup generator at treatment plant 

by Keith Eddings
Eagle Tribune
March 28, 2019

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! 

We 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.