The Merrimack River is considered one of the major beneficiaries of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Merrimack River Lowell image credit: Beyond The Wall film still

The river, which flows through New Hampshire and Massachusetts, is important as a drinking water source and a habitat for rare and endangered species. It entered a period of transformation after the legislation passed.


“Birthplace of American industry, drinking water source for over a half million people, and home to Eastern brook trout and other fish and wildlife, the Merrimack River is one of New England’s treasures,” according to American Rivers.


The Clean Water Act played a major role in the transformation of the river.


“The point source pollution from factories was tackled, and the river’s water quality dramatically improved. In addition, pathogen (primarily bacteria) and nutrient concentrations (total phosphorus and nitrate-nitrogen) were reduced,” according to the Merrimack River Watershed Council.


Along with support from federal law, local governments, agencies, and residents have played a major role in the river’s progress. One example is the Clean River Project, a nonprofit devoted to the health of waterways.

“Since the start of the Clean River Project in 2005, the Merrimack riverbanks have gone from being totally covered with debris to be the beautiful beaches they once were over 100 years go,” the group says.

“The Clean River Project is made up entirely of volunteers who have collected more than 100,000 tons of trash from the Merrimack over the past 13 years. The debris used to consist of mostly old tires, toys, and appliances. Now, likely thanks to the growing use of heroin and opiates in New England, syringes have been added to that mix,”  The Boston Globe reported.

Nevertheless, environmental advocates say there is still plenty of work that needs to be done on the Merrimack RIver.

“Today, the river is classified primarily as B waters, meaning that the water is intended to be both fishable, swimmable, and boatable, but all 50 miles in Massachusetts are still considered non-supporting for Class B waters,” Merrimack River Watershed Council reported.

Nutrient pollution is a top problem for the river as a result of municipal wastewater and runoff from developed lands.

The river was ranked eighth last year on a list of the nation’s most endangered rivers compiled by the conservation group American Rivers. The report called for federal policy safeguards, including protections for forests along the river. It also proposed “improved stormwater management to reduce the excess nutrients and pathogens in the river.”