In the Fiscal Year 2020 Senate Budget, State Senator Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) passed legislation to create a Merrimack River District Commission, an inclusive commission of local stakeholders — from sewage management professionals to environmentalists to elected officials — as well as representatives from state agencies, to assess the current health of the Merrimack and to map out strategies to ensure the health and safety of the river going forward.
Though unanimously passed by the Senate, language to establish the Commission was eliminated after budget negotiations began with the House on the final Conference Committee Report – despite the inclusion in the final report of $50,000 to fund it.
Now, DiZoglio, alongside fellow senators from the Merrimack Valley, is fighting to have the Commission reinstated. She, alongside State Senators Edward J. Kennedy (D-Lowell), Barry R. Finegold (D-Andover), Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester) and James B. Eldridge (D-Acton), penned a joint letter to State Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, requesting that the legislation be moved to the Senate floor for consideration as soon as possible.
“This commission has been a priority of mine since the start of this legislative session, as I work to bring together stakeholders from all along the Merrimack to address issues around pollution, including discharge from combined sewer overflows (CSOs),” said DiZoglio. “We have never convened a diverse group of experts from various sectors to work together, agree on the basic facts, and advise the legislature on how to proceed to restore our beloved river so that it may be here for future generations to explore and enjoy.”
In June, DiZoglio, alongside the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, hosted a kick-off of the Merrimack River District Commission that was attended by more than 50 local stakeholders, environmentalists and experts, including the Army Corps of Engineers.
“While this group will be funded, it is imperative that the Commission be established at the state level, as this will formalize the process, requiring that a report be delivered back to the legislature on the Commission’s findings regarding the health of the Merrimack,” said DiZoglio. “This report will help our region identify both short- and long-term solutions.”
“Recent reports have illustrated in stark terms that combined sewer overflows caused by outdated infrastructure pose a pervasive and reoccurring threat to the health of the Merrimack River,” said Kennedy. “The establishment of a Merrimack River District Commission would bring together stakeholders in communities that the river flows through to determine solutions to this issue and to preserve this vital natural resource into the future.”
“I applaud Senator DiZoglio for making the Commission a top priority, and I share her desire to see it reinstated,” said Finegold. “Since taking office in January, I’ve heard from dozens of constituents who are concerned about the river’s health and the impact it has on our community. We need the Commission so that we can bring all the organizations, advocates, and experts together and make the best decisions for the Merrimack River in the years to come.”
“The discharge of pollution is a serious concern made even more so when it is dumped directly into one of New England’s largest public drinking water sources – the Merrimack,” Senator Tarr said.
“This commission could bring key stakeholders and resources together to effectively mitigate the impacts from exposure to contaminants, and improve our economy and quality of life.”
While the establishment of the Commission was not included in the final Conference Committee Report, the final budget did include an amendment sponsored by DiZoglio for $100,000 toward a pilot program to notify swimmers and boaters of CSOs in the Merrimack. The program will utilize physical and virtual means to notify residents of potential CSO concerns, in the form of flagging and through a mobile app and website alerts.