AMESBURY — The Merrimack River Watershed Council is warning people not to go swimming in the river this weekend after it received notice of a combined sewage overflow on Friday after the heavy rain this week.

According Merrimack River Watershed Council interim director/outreach specialist John Macone, a sewage overflow at the Lowell and Haverhill wastewater treatment plants occurred at some time between 5:07 and 6:14 p.m, Thursday after heavy rains in Lowell.

Six of Haverhill's 15 overflow pipes activated Thursday which, according to Macone, is the sign of a moderate overflow.

"It's not known how much sewage entered the river, nor how much bacteria entered the river as those figures won't be released for some time" Macone wrote in a Watershed Council Facebook post.

Macone said on Friday it can take between two and three days for discharged sewage to clear the river and he recommended people avoiding swimming over the weekend.

"We haven't seen anything from the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District yet," Macone said. "In New Hampshire, Nashua hasn't issued anything and Manchester never issues anything" by way of public notifications.

With the first weekend of summer beginning on Saturday, Macone said the Watershed Council wanted to alert the public as soon as possible.

"We figured that people will be in the river this weekend," he said. "It is going to get hot and they are going to want to be in the river. So, they better know."

Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray has been one of many local leaders, including Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen and state Reps. Jim Kelcourse, R-Amesbury and Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, who have been calling for better public notification when overflows occur.

Although Gray said he would have preferred to hear directly from the operators of the treatment plant involved, he was still happy to have a more "quantified" notification from the Watershed Council on Friday.

"I'm glad to see there is someone saying 'stay out of the river for two days,'" he said. "I have never before seen a discharge notification that has given us a recommended action. So that is a positive. The negative is that we still have a long way to go, it seems, in terms of quantifying levels of discharge and relative danger in terms of bacteria levels."

Gray added that Friday's alert “is a step in the right direction."

"I think people are starting to listen," he said. "I think some of the operators are taking the public concerns seriously and are starting to take some appropriate action."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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