It’s been raining and raining for 2 weeks, and that’s bad news for the health of the Merrimack River. We have a rare opportunity to make significant progress to fix it, and The Merrimack River Watershed Council (MRWC) is asking the public to help. MRWC has seen an alarming number of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) occur on the Merrimack, about one every other day. That means millions of gallons of untreated sewage has been discharged into the river, making it unsafe to swim or wade in. This sewage comes from municipal sewer plants located in the Merrimack Valley’s old industrial cities — Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Nashua, and Manchester. Each city is trying to fix the problem. but it is enormously expensive and it will take years for them to find the money to pay for it.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has included some important river priorities in his plan for spending the $5.3 billion coming to Massachusetts from American Rescue Plan Act. And he has singled out the Merrimack River as a place where he wants to see some of this money spent. This can mean much-needed financial help for CSO abatement in Haverhill, Lawrence, and Lowell.
Gov. Baker’s plan isn’t a done deal, and the state legislature is beginning to craft its own spending plan. Please call, email, or write your legislators and ask them to include CSO funding and other measures intended to clean up our rivers as a priority! Here’s a sample letter:
“Hi, My name is ______ and I’m a constituent from ________. Please include the following priorities in the American Rescue Plan Act spending plan:
Water and sewer infrastructure (Gov. Baker proposes $400 million) – According to a 2017 report by the state auditor, Massachusetts communities need over $17 billion in water infrastructure upgrades. By investing in water infrastructure, especially with green infrastructure approaches, we can create local jobs that will not only support a post-pandemic economic recovery but will also improve water quality.
Green infrastructure & climate resilience (Gov. Baker proposes $300 million) – This funding would go towards the state’s existing Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program, which provides grants for resilience planning and implementation, but receives many more applications than it is able to fund. It’s key that non-profit organizations play a role in implementing the funding.
State park facilities (Gov. Baker proposes $100 million) – Throughout the pandemic, outdoor public spaces were vital as safe places for recreation, a respite from the heat, and solace from social stressors. Parks, both large and small, contribute to public health and climate resilience, providing benefits like cleaner air and water, cooler local temperatures, and reduced localized flooding.