IV. Summary and Recommendations
The Lower Merrimack River supports a variety of significant state and local resources. To better protect and manage these resources, and to improve existing water quality, the Department of Environmental Services recommends the following actions:
Recommendation 1: The General Court should adopt legislation which designates the Lower Merrimack River from the Merrimack-Bedford town line to the Massachusetts border into the Rivers Management and Protection Program and classifies the segment as a "Community River."
Under the provisions of the protection measure amendments to RSA Ch. 483, a community designation will provide increased protection for the river against new dam construction, damaging channel alterations, water quality impairment, and the inappropriate use of motorboats. A designation will also require the establishment of protected instream flow levels to maintain the minimum amount of water in the river that is necessary to safeguard public trust resources, including fisheries, water quality, and recreation. A Local River Management Advisory Committee will be established to coordinate local issues related to the protection and management of the river and will provide local residents with a direct avenue for formal input to state decisions that affect the river. Finally, a designation will result in the development of a long-range management plan for the river that coordinates state planning and management of fisheries, water quality and quantity, and recreation.
A "Community River" classification is recommended for the Lower Merrimack River. Under the proposed amendments to RSA Ch. 483, community rivers are defined as "those rivers or river segments which flow through populated areas of the state and which possess actual or potential resource values. Such rivers have some residential or other building development near their shorelines, are readily accessible by road or railroad, and may include some impoundments or diversion." As the Lower Merrimack River flows through the heavily populated southern tier of New Hampshire, the river clearly meets the definition of a community river.
The designation of the Lower Merrimack River as a "Community River" under the Rivers Management and Protection Program will clearly express the intent of the General Court with regard to the protection and management of the river and will focus attention on the river as a natural resource of both statewide and local significance. This attention will help to insure greater scrutiny of plans and proposals which have the potential to significantly after or destroy those river values and characteristics which qualify the river for designation.
Recommendation 2: The General Court should adopt legislation to upgrade the water quality classification of the Lower Merrimack River below the confluence of the Nashua River from "C" to "B".
Under RSA Ch. 485-A, the General Court has given every surface water body in New Hampshire a water quality classification of either A, B, or C. These classifications represent the legislature's water quality goals for these surface waters, rather than reflecting existing water quality levels. Legislative water quality classifications for the Lower Merrimack River are: Class B from the Merrimack-Bedford townline to the confluence of the Nashua River and Class C from the Nashua River to the Massachusetts border.
Current water quality in the Lower Merrimack River is poor. The segment from the Merrimack-Bedford town line to the confluence of the Nashua River does not support the Class B standards due to raw sewage discharges to the river in Manchester. The City of Manchester is under a court-ordered consent degree to cease all raw sewage discharges to the river by October 31, 1992, after which it is expected that the river will meet Class B standards except during storm events when combined sewer overflows (CSOs) impair water quality. The most recent sampling by the Water Supply and Pollution Control Division indicated that the segment of the river from the confluence of the Nashua River to the Massachusetts border was not supporting Class B standards due to discharges from the Nashua wastewater treatment facility and discharges into the Nashua River in Massachusetts. A new secondary treatment facility in Nashua that began operation in late 1989 and the cessation of raw discharges in Manchester should bring water quality in this segment up to Class B standards, except during storm events when CSO's from Nashua impair water quality.
It is appropriate for the General Court to upgrade the water quality classification of the Lower Merrimack River from the confluence of the Nashua River to the Massachusetts border given the importance of achieving and maintaining a high level of water quality in the river and because of the clear potential for the river to support Class B standards in the near future, at least during dry weather flows.
Recommendation 3: The General Court should require the Rivers Management Advisory Committee, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Services, to report on the water quality status of the Lower Merrimack River on or before January 1, 1993.
In order to monitor the progress of the Lower Merrimack River toward supporting Class B water quality standards, it is recommended that the General Court require the Rivers Management Advisory Committee, in consultation with the Department of Environmental Services, to report on the water quality status of the river on or before January 1, 1993.
Recommendation 4: The communities of Merrimack, Litchfield, Hudson, and Nashua should continue to work toward protection of the Lower Merrimack River through the adoption of the recommendations in the Merrimack River Corridor Management Plan prepared by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.
While a state designation will improve the protection and management of the river itself, continuing local efforts will be needed to address the use and conservation of the river corridor. A growing recognition by local citizens of the Lower Merrimack River's valuable contribution to the overall quality of life in their communities is reflected in their desire to see it designated into the state program and by the preparation of the Merrimack River Corridor Management Plan by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission. The four river communities should work toward the adoption of the recommendations in the Lower Merrimack River Corridor Management Plan.
In summary, the establishment of a clear policy and specific instream protection measures by the General Court, and a continuing commitment on the part of local governments and residents to protect and manage the river corridor through sound land use decisions will ensure that the outstanding resources of the Lower Merrimack River will "endure as part of the river uses to be enjoyed by New Hampshire people."