'The Merrimack: River at Risk'

'The Merrimack: River at Risk'  (Courtesy photo)

TEWKSBURY — The mighty Merrimack has as history as long as its run. Lifeblood to the valley that bears its name, the river is both giving and challenging at the same time. Tewksbury draws its drinking water from the 117 mile river, which makes the new documentary, “The Mer­rimack: River at Risk,” even that much more important to watch.

Created by filmmaker Jerry Monkman, the film explores the river that touches over 20 cities and towns in New Hamp­shire and Massachu­setts. The river has powered mills and factories, supports wildlife and ag­riculture, is a haven for recreation, but has strug­gled to find respect and kindness in return for all it has provided.

The film will be screen­ed for free by the Merri­mack River Watershed Council on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. during a virtual event which will also in­clude an expert Q&A panel. The film is a production of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The film was four years in the making and is hosted by conservationist Leah Hart. The film discusses how the Mer­rimack is one of the most endangered rivers in the country. While the Clean Water Act of 1975 sought to help restore waterways and clean up discharges of sewage and chemicals, there are new threats to the river’s health, and the animals and people that depend on it.

According to the Envi­ronmental Protection Agency, the river provides drinking water for approximately 500,000 peo­ple in five Massachu­setts communities: Low­ell, Methuen, Andover, Tewksbury, and Lawrence. The Merrimack River also provides water to many communities in the greater Nashua, N.H. area, which are served by Pennichuck Water.

Manchester, N.H. and Haverhill are planning to add infiltration wells along the Merrimack Ri­ver, increasing the number of people drinking source water from the Merrimack, to more than 700,000, according to the EPA website.

The river starts in New Hampshire at the confluence of the Winnepesau­kee and Pemigewasset Rivers. The river is the fourth largest watershed in New England, flowing all the way to the At­lantic Ocean via Newbury­port. Historical perspectives along with current challenges of legislation and conservation are highlighted in the film.

Stormwater runoff and sewage overflows have contributed to a deterioration of work that had been done years before to try to clean up and sustain the river. 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 untreated sewage re­leases in Haverhill and Lawrence. 

MRWC board member Suzanne DiMeco hopes people will be moved to action by watching the film.

“We know that people are looking for ways to get involved, and we know the film will en­courage people to participate in an event, join the council, or ask how can they can move beyond just awareness of this issue.”

DiMeco explained that questions from the public can be sent prior to the film, or addressed during the Q&A panel, which will include eco-photographer Jerry Monkman, Society for the Protec­tion of New Hampshire Forest’s Ryan Smith, MRWC executive director Matthew Thorne and others.

For more information and to sign up for the virtual screening of the film, visit http://merrimack.org/events/the-merrimack-river-at-risk-virtual-viewing-of-the-documentary-expert-panel-qa-session/.

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