Massachusetts officials are working to assemble a commission to study the health of the polluted Merrimack River and come up with a plan to clean the water, state Senator Diana DiZoglio said.
The Merrimack River, which flows from Franklin, N.H., to Newburyport, is polluted with millions of gallons of sewage. About 500,000 people in Massachusetts get their drinking water from the river, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have families who are going out, especially during summer months, to enjoy the Merrimack River,” DiZoglio said. “We need to make sure families are protected and aware of sewage running into the river. They do not know before they go into [the] water, and that’s really unacceptable.”
The river has been dirtied by combined sewer overflows for years, DiZoglio said. During heavy rainstorms, sewers overflow with rainwater and flow into the Merrimack.
A bill, cosponsored by Methuen’s DiZoglio, would assemble a Merrimack River District Commission to study the health of the river and propose guidelines to clean up the 117-mile-long river, DiZoglio said. The committee would have one year, beginning in January 2020, to make recommendations to clean the river.
“The commission will examine the overall state of health of the Merrimack and examine ways to improve and restore the water quality,” DiZoglio said.
The 15-person commission, which would include state officials and environmentalists, would meet about once a month, the state senator said. The bill would also establish an advisory panel of local officials.
“We are going to have discussions with all local stakeholders, all the way from New Hampshire to Newburyport,” DiZoglio said. “The goal is to highlight the overall impact of the Merrimack River on our region and the vitality and economic sustainability of our region.”
The Massachusetts Senate passed the bill Monday. It will be made law if approved by Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts House. The governor allocated $50,000 to fund the commission, said Nicholas Pangakis, a legislative aide and policy adviser in DiZoglio’s office.
Five cities get their drinking water from the river: Lowell, Methuen, Andover, Tewksbury, and Lawrence, according to the EPA. Methuen extensively purifies its water because of the pollution in the river, Methuen Mayor James P. Jajuga said.
“I think it would go a long way for consumers to know that they’re drinking without having to go through a process. It’s a quality of life issue that I think would have a beneficial impact on not only Methuen, but the entire region,” Jajuga said.