Members of Congress from Massachusetts and New Hampshire joined forces Thursday to write a letter to the EPA seeking more money to clean up the Merrimack River.
Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Lowell, was joined by Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Salem, and New Hampshire Congressman Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, D-Concord, in calling for changes to a proposed formula that will be used to disperse federal grant funding to states and municipalities to prevent combined sewer overflows, or CSOs.
CSOs occur when heavy rain overwhelms local sanitary sewer systems, causing them to overflow and dump thousands of gallons raw, diluted sewage into the Merrimack River.
There have been several overflows this summer, resulting in health boards along the river advising against fishing or swimming for at least 48 hours following the release.
Their letter, filed on the final day of public comment to the EPA, asks that the grants not be based on total population of a state but on the frequency of overflows.
“Communities along the Merrimack River have been doing everything they can to limit harmful sewage and stormwater overflows, but more help from the federal government is long overdue,” said Congresswoman Trahan.
“Federal funding for CSO projects will go a long way toward helping communities in need, but the current formula proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency will place our communities at a clear disadvantage," she continued. "I’m proud to join with my colleagues to request changes to the EPA’s formula. We will not give up until communities along the Merrimack get the federal assistance they need to tackle this important issue.”
States like Florida, where there are few CSO problems because the sewer systems are newer, stand to gain the most because their population is so high, whereas New England states will receive less, even though the sewer systems in the northeast are generally much older and in need of billions of dollars in repairs and improvements.
The Merrimack River Watershed Council estimates that nearly 800 million gallons of untreated sewage dumped into the Merrimack River from six urban treatment plants in 2018 alone. In the past two months, the Council has announced and The Eagle Tribune has reported on untreated sewage releases in Haverhill and Lawrence.