‘State of the Waters Conference:’ Pilot Program Coming to Warn of Sewer Discharges

Merrimack River Watershed Council President Dan Graovac. (Aaron Basiliere photograph.)

For those boating, swimming on just relaxing on a Merrimack River beach, there will be advance warning when there has been a sewage overflow or spill.

Sen. Diana DiZoglio told attendees to Friday’s “State of the Waters Conference” to expect any combination of color-coded flags, smartphone apps or web notifications. A pilot program will soon take place in Newburyport, modeled after a similar program on the Charles River. Moreover, she said, the 1970s federal legislation largely cleaned up the nation’s rivers when no one would go near the water.

“It smelled. It was discolored. Nobody would have thought of going swimming in the Merrimack River or going out in a kayak or paddle board. It was not something that was done,” she explained.

While the river is cleaner, DiZoglio said, the feds need to step up with money to finish the job—namely separating storm drains from municipal sewers. She said, “No combined sewer overflows is the goal. Rushing water from storms tend to overwhelm sewer systems, leading to river discharges. She said Congresswoman Lori Trahan is leading the charge for more federal help in Washington.

DiZoglio recently secured $250,000 in state money to pay for a Merrimack River District Commission. It will deliver to the legislature its findings regarding the health of the Merrimack, including pollution concerns.

One commissioner, Ralph T. Basiliere, was struck by the interest and standing room only crowd at the conference.

“The Merrimack is the people’s exquisite inheritance. We are duty-bound to protect her resources for future generations,” said Basiliere, a member Haverhill’s Conservation Commission.

Friday’s conference was presented by the Merrimack River Watershed Council and took place at Northern Essex Community College’s Haverhill campus.

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