River Warriors Seeking to Clean Local Waterways

August 29, 2014

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

To someone growing up below the New Hampshire state border, a boat ride on the Merrimack River may seem less than pleasing, but 10 years of work by a volunteer organization has transformed the water body into an oasis.

The Clean River Project, run by a Salem resident seeking to clean the banks and clear the riverbed of debris, has removed large amounts of waste from the Merrimack River, which also serves as the water supply to multiple border communities.

Rocky Morrison, president of the Clean River Project, operates a five-boat fleet, docked in Methuen, Mass., on the river, and took New Hampshire Senate President Chuck Morse (R-Salem) for a tour of their efforts.

A volunteer crew used a variety of equipment to pull tires, propane tanks and multiple cars from the river, but work still remains to be done.

Taking a tour along the river, Morrison pointed out locations where cars had recently been found, just a few thousand feet upstream from public water supplies.  He said 28 cars remained in the stretch of river and that his crew can extract up to three cars in a day.

“There are all these cars right here in front of the intake pump,” he said pointing out the location to Morse.

Nets placed toward the river banks collect smaller floating debris coming down the river and need to be emptied frequently.

Morrison is looking to expand his efforts into New Hampshire, hoping to assess the status of the Merrimack River in Manchester, noting waste can flow from the north down.

“Look at the river like a giant conveyer belt,” he said.  “You always have trash floating down.”

Morse was pleased with the work being done by Morrison and the crew, praising their efforts.

“What a great job they’re doing with this river,” said Morse, after the river tour.

The operation is funded by donations and grants both from government and private organizations.  The entire crew volunteers their time to work on the river, Morrison said.

But the Merrimack isn’t the only destination they hope to look at in the state.  Canobie Lake is said to be filled with hundreds of sunken pine trees, which occasionally float to the top and cause problems with boaters.

The logs are stamped “U.S.” on the bottom, and are assumed to be from a World War II base, which used to exist on the lake, now Salem’s drinking water reservoir.

Morrison said he occasionally gets calls from the Windham Department of Public Works and Police Department to remove the 20-foot logs, which float to the surface.

Working on Canobie won’t be easy.  Morrison said two permits have to be obtained from the state, one to allow divers in a drinking water supply, and the second to remove the trees, and there have been struggles to receive them.

The second problem is finding a funding source to conduct a survey of the lake, and then the cost of the operation.

Morrison said he is also working with the Salem Conservation Commission to obtain access to remove fallen trees in the Spicket River, which would make it passable for kayakers.

Morse encouraged the organization to begin projects in New Hampshire and said support would come from residents.

“The support will come,” Morse said, noting the state’s 400 representatives and enthusiasm toward volunteerism and hard work.

Morrison said he plans to fundraise and obtain permits to enter Canobie, saying work could begin next year on the lake.