City Advances Plan to Draw Water from Merrimack River Well

Robert E. Ward, deputy DPW director.

Plans to withdraw up to 6 million gallons of water daily from the Merrimack River won verbal endorsement from Haverhill city councilors Tuesday night.

Responding to long-term drought worries, councilors informally agreed to advance a plan to begin taking water from one or two wells drilled adjacent to, and below, the river. It will take two to three years to complete the project, including obtaining state approval. Mayor James J. Fiorentini said the next step will be to estimate the costs and bring a loan request to the council.

“We need to do this, and do it now,” the mayor said. He added the city’s current voluntary conservation measures will soon be replaced by mandatory water restrictions.

Robert E. Ward, deputy DPW director, said 60 to 70 percent of the city’s drinking water comes from Millvale Reservoir and Crystal Lake—backup sources to the city’s primary supply at Kenoza Lake. However, with the continuing drought, those sources are running out.

“We pumped it down as low as we can pump it,” Ward said of Millvale, adding withdrawal from Crystal Lake will be turned off soon. He said tapping temporary sources such as Round and Plug Ponds would help, but “it’s very expensive for very little yield.” Money would be better spent on a permanent Merrimack River solution, he said.

Contrary to concerns he has heard from residents, Ward said, sand and gravel between the river helps clean the water before it is taken from well. In response to a question from Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, Ward declined to say where the well will be sunk since the city is negotiating the property purchase from a private landowner. When activated, water would be pumped from the well to Kenoza Lake and be treated at the existing treatment plant there.

Council Vice President Melinda E. Barrett questioned why the city is still irrigating and spraying at Swasey Field when it is asking residents to conserve. Ward said he would ask Human Services Director Vincent Ouellette.

Noting the Merrimack River is tidal, Councilor William J. Macek asked if salt coming up from the ocean poses a concern. Ward said his preferred well location is above the tidal area which ends near Rocks Village.

Councilor Michael S. McGonagle expressed the most skepticism, wondering aloud if the city should undertake the expense of tapping the river when droughts regularly occur only every 20 years.

On a motion of Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, and seconded by Macek, councilors agreed to ask Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey to find federal money for the project. Fiorentini said he isn’t optimistic about the chances of getting help from the U.S., noting “Congress is deadlocked right now.”

2 thoughts on “City Advances Plan to Draw Water from Merrimack River Well