As The River Flows

February 17th, 2011

When I first came to UMW I heard a lot of talk about the local Rappahannock river and how it was an important focus for conservation in the state. The Rappahannock always reminded me a lot about my own state river in New Hampshire, the Merrimack, often lovingly referred to as the Mighty Merrimack by locals. The Merrimack river stretches down the center of New Hampshire into Massachusetts and effects a huge area of the watershed in my small state.

The Merrimack is a very important feature to NH, as it helped power the Mill industries that once dominated and shaped the state in the 1800s. Many dams and canals were installed to harness the water’s power. Today there are several hydropower facilities. However, with the massive growth of industry right along the riverside, the Merrimack quickly became overrun with pollution from trash dumping and factory runoff. Growing population did not help this matter, as many citizens and farmers would carelessly throw their waste into the water. The river was also used as a sewage dump for large towns in the state, making the water particularly foul. The Clean Water Act of 1972 set into motion events to clean up the Merrimack. Cleanup was slow, Manchester (the largest town in NH) didn’t stop dumping sewage until 1992. However, activism for this cause has gained momentum in more recent years and the river is much cleaner than it has been since the 1800s.

Growing up as a child I recall my parents telling me that the river was ‘dirty’ and that I should not swim in it. We had to drive upstate to the mountains where pristine rivers flowed. There was always a stigma against swimming in the Merrimack or many of its feeder rivers. Many people would say that it was only safe to boat on the water. My parents told me that they took a small boat down the river once in the 80s, after only a few hours the hull was covered with a toxic sludge that permanently stained the craft. It’s no wonder they didn’t want me swimming in it. Although the river is much cleaner in recent years, the water quality is still questionable in many places. Many people do swim in the polluted waters, and simply choose to ignore the dirtiness.

Despite the pollution, the riverside is still one of my favorite places. The Suncook river (one of the feeders to the Merrimack) runs through my town. The flood of 2006 caused the Suncook to flood its banks and reroute itself through part of the town. The new course flows through an old sandpit, creating a unique new habitat. We lovingly call this spot the ‘avulsion’, which is a technical term for a rerouted river. The river exposed lots of clay deposits that are pure enough to mold and set to bake in the sun on a hot summer day. I hope that the Merrimack cleanup will continue until the river is as close to its original state as possible.

The Avuslion

´╗┐Here is an informative blog about the Merrimack in case anyone wants to learn more about the river! A Look At The Merrimack

The Lawrence Dam on the Merrimack


4 Responses to “As The River Flows”

  1. sarahdawes said:

    Great post! I’m originally from New England as well, so it was interesting to read about something that hits close to home. I’ve never been close enough to the Merrimack to get a good feel for its level of pollution, but it’s good to hear that work continues to progress on the clean up. The story you have about the sludge on your parent’s boat is astonishing – it’s amazing how harmful human influence can be.

  2. johnlilly said:

    This reminds me of my local river, The Shenandoah. A few decades ago, a rayon manufacturing plant used to dump its waste directly into the water and even to this day there are huge signs warning visitors not to eat the fish because they are still contaminated with the chemicals.

  3. marleyh11 said:

    The sludge is pretty gross! Sometimes we need a visual of pollution to really understand the reality of it.

    Rayon factory contamination sounds really serious. I wonder how long it will effect the local wildlife for?

  4. Dr. Szulczewski said:

    Those photos are worth 1000 words!