Officials Want Cleanup of Merrimack River Studied

March 27, 2000
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Officials in New Hampshire and Massachusetts want the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a pollution study of the Merrimack River.

Five cities along the Merrimack may have to spend as much as $500 million to revamp their sewage systems to ensure that waste doesn't flow into the river.

But state and city officials say they have little information about the river, and they want to know more about the problems before they open their wallets. The study could take up to four years and cost as much as $10 million.

Manchester and Nashua, along with Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill, Mass., have been ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the river. About 2 million people live in 203 communities along the river and its tributaries.

But the question is whether the federal government will come up with the cash to pay for the study.

"We need to better understand the right balance for diverse uses including water supply, wastewater assimilation aquatic habitat and recreation," New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H.

Smith has requested an initial $500,000 from the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development. That's well below the $1.5 million needed for the study's first year, but there is limited money available for Corps projects.

The five cities have been ordered to change their sewage systems because when rain and storm runoff mix with sewage, the combined flow can overwhelm wastewater treatment facilities and pour directly into the river.

Manchester already has begun taking bids on work on its $58 million sewage renovation project, and Nashua estimates it will spend well over $100 million. The Massachusetts cities still are in the design phase.

Though both states have low- or no-interest loan programs to help the cities with the costs, there isn't likely to be any federal money to help them. That means the cities' 450,000 sewage system customers will pay the price.

"If we add up the money that these communities could be spending on so-called quality improvement over the next 10 to 20 years, it could be $700 million to $1 billion," said George Crombie, public works director in Nashua. "Everybody is asking the same question: If that much money is going to be spent, let's get a scientific basis for those expenditures."

Ralph Goodno, president of the nonprofit Merrimack River Watershed Council, said the study would be precedent setting because of its approach to the problem of river pollution.

"The study starts from the (combined sewer overflow) part of it, which is a specific course, and says, 'Now we've got to look at the larger universe of pollution sources in the watershed and create tools to anticipate future source as well so we will know how best to spend out money,'" he said.

SOURCE: The Associated Press

Acid Rain Still Damaging Adirondack Waters

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Clean Air Act, amended in 1990 to help combat pollution leading to acid rain, has failed to protect the waters of New York's Adirondack Mountains, the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) reported.

The law was supposed to reduce sulfur and nitrogen pollution from exhaust from cars and coal fired power plants. Sulfur levels have been significantly reduced in high mountain lakes and streams, the report reveals, but nitrogen levels have risen in almost half of these water bodies. Because nitrogen turns into nitric acid in water, the acidity of Adirondack waters has continued to rise. Acidic waters can kill aquatic animals like fish, frogs and salamanders.

"Increases in these lakes' acidity raise questions about their prospects for recovering under the current program," the report said.

The GAO report collects and summarizes many recent scientific findings. The report says levels of nitrogen deposition in the Adirondacks were relatively stable over the past decade. However, since 1990, nitrogen levels rose in 48 percent of the 52 lakes tested by the nonprofit Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation. Nitrogen levels fell in about 25 percent of these lakes. Sulfur levels fell in 92 percent of the lakes tested. The GAO says older forests such as those in the Adirondacks do not absorb as much nitrogen as younger forests. So, more of the nitrogen deposited in soil ends up in nearby waterways. Adirondack soils are no longer good absorbers of nitrogen, having become saturated by years of acid rain, the report notes, so much of the nitrogen blowing in from pollution sources ends up in the water.

"Lakes in the Adirondack Mountains are taking longer to recover than lakes located elsewhere and are likely to recover less or not recover, without further reductions of acid deposition," the report concludes.

SOURCE: Environment News Service

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