State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) and the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission have announced the finalization of a scope of work for the Merrimack River District Commission (MRDC).
The MRDC, which will be funded through monies secured by DiZoglio through the Fiscal Year 2020 State Budget, is an inclusive commission of local stakeholders — from sewage management professionals to environmentalists to elected officials — as well as representatives from state agencies, charged with assessing the current health of the Merrimack River and mapping out strategies to ensure the health and safety of the Merrimack moving forward.
The Commission’s scope of work, prepared by the Andover-based environmental engineering and consulting firm Brown and Caldwell, outlines the development of a framework for decision-making and funding priorities associated with the MRDC, including a unified vision and statement of regional goals. The framework will consolidate the pertinent information, encourage communication and support regional objectives for stakeholders along the Merrimack.
While there have been studies of the Merrimack River in recent decades, including reports from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, there is sentiment among stakeholders that such data is difficult to access, focused on very specific issues and not helpful toward making informed decisions regarding future improvements to the river.
“This scope of work is essential to moving the commission forward, as we bring together experts from all along the Merrimack to address issues around pollution, including discharge from combined sewer overflows (CSOs),” said DiZoglio. “The group has already met a couple of times to hear from experts and discuss strategy. Due to a lag time in receiving funds that were appropriated to them during the budget process, however, it has lacked the structure needed to ensure results are produced from those discussions. Now that the funds have been allocated, they can get into the meat and potatoes of strategic planning. This is a hugely important step needed to set both short and long-term goals for keeping our river clean, healthy, safe and beautiful.”
Included in the scope of work are six specific tasks toward establishing the MRDC framework, with an estimated completion of four to six months in total:
• A needs assessment, compiling all relevant studies on the Merrimack River from the past two decades and identifying any data gaps, data quality inconsistences and objectives not addressed, among other issues. At this stage, all regulatory requirements for communities and utilities along the river will also be compiled.
• The establishment of guidelines for a consolidated data clearinghouse for the Merrimack River, with data types including river uses, water quality data and pollution source data, among others. Guidelines will also be established for a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP), a document designed to govern the field, laboratory and procedures for ongoing and future data collection.
• The formation of a steering committee and technical advisory group to help ensure the right data is being developed and applied to support regional decisions and to help prioritize and advocate for funding based on identified needs. Pertinent stakeholders, including environmental groups, elected officials, public health officials and other experts will have roles in these groups.
• The facilitating of workshops to help craft the framework, articulating consensus goals for the Merrimack River and determining the roles and responsibilities of participating stakeholders moving forward.
• Developing the framework with four principal goals in mind: consistent integration of regional priorities, unified advocacy for funding and research, data-driven decisions, and a focus on uses of the Merrimack River.
• The presentation of the framework.
“A clean, healthy Merrimack River is vital to me both professionally and personally,” said Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College. “Nearly 700,000 people live in the cities and towns along its banks in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, including more than 25,000 NECC alumni, all contributing to the region’s workforce and economy – and I’m a recreational kayaker who enjoys paddling along the beautiful river shoreline. I appreciate Senator DiZoglio’s championing of this effort, and am excited about the work of this commission, bringing together partners in both states to look at the best scientific research available and create strategies to clean up and preserve this incredible natural resource for future generations.”
“The Merrimack River is integral to the regional economy and overall welfare of many of our Merrimack Valley communities, including providing drinking water for the cities of Methuen and Lawrence,” said Jennifer Hughes, environmental program manager at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission. “MVPC looks forward to assisting Senator DiZoglio and the District Commission in their efforts to make informed decisions on the best investments to sustain the Merrimack’s economic and environmental health.”
“The Merrimack River has long been a reliable resource in New England, providing power, drinking water, wastewater assimilation, recreational opportunities, warm and cold water aquatic habitat, shell-fishing, and aesthetic beauty to our region,” said Kirk Westphal, water resources leader at Brown and Caldwell. “In recent decades, it has been the stage for economic revitalization of the communities that line its shores. Many studies have been undertaken to better understand specific aspects of the river, but until now the information has been decentralized, and priorities for the basin have not always been regionally coordinated. The work that Senator DiZoglio and the Commission have enabled will aim to provide a unifying framework for knowing and caring for the river and the communities it serves.”
As the MRDC moves forward, it will be alongside another project of DiZoglio’s and the MVPC’s regarding a pilot program, funded through $100,000 secured by the senator in the FY20 Budget, to notify swimmers and boaters of CSOs in the Merrimack. The program will utilize physical and virtual means to notify residents of potential CSO concerns, in the form of flagging and through a mobile app and website alerts.