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Thursday, July 8, 2010

June 29: Rivers are good for swimming

Very hot weather and the lack of rain for the last several holiday days brought out good news for all the swimmers in local rivers. E. coli levels dropped to very acceptable levels at almost all areas along the Souhegan and Merrimack Rivers.

The upper Souhegan River usually tests good. This area is the headwaters section between Ashburnham, MA, and Wilton, NH. The outflow from Billy Ward Pond in Ashburnham was slightly elevated, and the program is looking for corrective measures that can be taken there, but the main stem of the river was all below the healthy 88 level that the program looks for.

The stretch of the Souhegan between Wilton and the Milford Oval had the highest readings on the river. Readings of 225 were seen in this area. The river quickly recovered however and stayed acceptable until Rte 122 near the Amherst Country Club. Readings here increased back over the 88 level and stayed high till the Amherst Canoeport at Boston Post Road, a popular swimming hole. Downstream the levels dropped to acceptable levels the rest of the way to the Merrimack River. Generally readings were quite good according to George May, SWA president and sponsor of the monitoring program. “Although a couple of spots were higher than 88, the river is pretty clean and I wouldn’t hesitate to swim in any of the popular spots,” he said.

“With the exception of one site near the Tyngsborough Bridge, the Merrimack looks pretty clean for E. coli. That site has construction going on there and they are working right on the water’s edge. Hopefully the work they are doing will prevent pollution in the future, but right now it’s a mess,” said May. The E. coli count here was an extremely high 517.

The hot weather and lack of rain also reduced the rivers’ flow. Both rivers are considerably below their historical average for this time of year. The lower level also exposed interesting things for the monitors when they checked their sites. In Greenville near the power line across the Souhegan the monitor removed a half bag of cement that someone had disposed of in the river. Unfortunately monitors have to clean up trash at their sites.

Not all of it is intentional. One of the monitors picked up a wallet that had been dropped – probably by a fisherman - and turned it in to the Milford Police.

Besides people coming to the river, lots of insects were noted on and along the rivers. These attracted lots of fish, frogs, and birds that were also spotted by the monitors.

The monitoring program is an all volunteer program sponsored by the Souhegan Watershed Association and the Lower Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee. The volunteer coordinator is Karen Mattor. Anyone interested in volunteering to help out can contact her at Lab tests are done by certified technicians at the Milford, Merrimack, Manchester, and Nashua Wastewater Treatment Facilities. More information and past results are available at

The next test will be on Tuesday, July 20.