Recreational use of the Merrimack River diminishes during the winter, as the temperature drops and the ice forms, but it doesn’t free the Merrimack River Watershed Council from its task of testing water quality.
Council Executive Director Matthew Thorne, a recent guest on WHAV’s morning program, says the goal is to get the issue of combined sewer overflows, otherwise known as CSOs, under control.
“We’ll continue to test water samples throughout the winter, but we are wrapping up our 2020 data and we’ll have a report on all of our findings up on our website Merrimack.org, and we’ll make that publicly available. We’ve been taking a look at water quality, mostly concerned with bacteria. We test on days that it’s not raining. We test on days it is raining and then we test of days after some of these combined sewer overflows and we take a look at that. We crunch a lot of numbers and put together a report that’s hopefully pretty understandable and digestible for the public,” he says.
Thorne adds that, beyond the recreational usage, the river also provides drinking water to about 600,000 people, but that’s a number that will likely increase.
“More towns are starting to stick a straw in the Merrimack. Part of that is due to some of the historic drought that we are seeing. For example, Manchester, N.H., traditionally gets its water out of Lake Massabesic but we’ve been seeing about 125-year lows on the water quantity in that lake. Manchester is starting to dip more and more into the Merrimack, which we don’t see as a bad thing, but see it as something where we know the quality of the water in the Merrimack has…We love that river and I swim in it, we paddle in it and drink from it, but it’s got some issues and so we need to be staying on that and addressing it,” he notes.
The Merrimack River Watershed Council is also in the process of partnering with the Lawrence-based art and education organization known as Elevated Thought in producing a short film about the topic of combined sewer overflows, and how these affect the river. The film is expected to be released in the spring.