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Has Manchester Sent Spring Sewage into Merrimack River?

In 2018, an estimated 800 million gallons of combined sewage overflow was discharged into the Merrimack River. (Wikimedia Commons)
In 2018, an estimated 800 million gallons of combined sewage overflow was discharged into the Merrimack River. (Wikimedia Commons)
June 26, 2019

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Has the city of Manchester been pumping raw sewage into the Merrimack River because of heavy rains this spring? That question won't be officially answered until next year, when the city is required to file a public report.

Yet just 35 miles south, the wastewater treatment plant serving the city of Lowell has voluntarily notified the public of 20 sewage discharges into the river during the last nine months, according to local officials.

John Macone, outreach coordinator for the Merrimack River Watershed Council, is asking that Manchester do the same - immediately after an incident occurs.

"What we're asking is for Manchester to meet the standard that the other plants along the Merrimack River are already meeting, and that is to simply alert the public whenever they release sewage into the Merrimack River," he said. "The other plants are trying to release information within a few hours. Manchester only releases its information once per year."

Macone said Manchester represents 45% of the estimated 800 million gallons of sewage that overflowed into the Merrimack River in 2018.

He said outdated sewer lines collect both rainwater and sewage, and when heavy rains overwhelm the system, raw sewage overflows into the river. All other major wastewater treatment plants along the Merrimack inform the public when this occurs.

The solution would be to rebuild the system, but Macone said that's expensive and requires an infusion of federal funds that isn't expected anytime soon. The river serves as drinking water for an estimated 600,000 people and is used by thousands for recreation. So, Macone said the council sees quicker notification as a public health issue.

"They are in technical compliance with the law," he said. "But what's interesting is, you have three other plants that also don't have to release information to the public immediately, but they are, because they feel it's their public responsibility to let people know what they're releasing into the river."

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig's office referred questions about this matter to Philip Croasdale, director of the city's Water Works Department that oversees the sewage plant. Croasdale did not return several emails and phone calls by deadline.

Kevin Bowe, Public News Service - NH