Why Anselmians need to start getting their feet wet: Plea for Merrimack River


Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons

Haverhill, Massachusetts (above) still dumps sewage into the river during CSO events.

James Lacefield, Opinion Editor

The Merrimack River Watershed has made a lot of progress since its use as a source of power for mills in our industrial hubs and an open sewer for its surrounding populations. Yet it still has a long way to go before we, as residents of the Merrimack’s banks, can be proud of our river. Being an Anselmian, then, can not stop at the edge of campus, nor can it stop at the banks of the Merrimack. As Anselmians, we have a responsibility to work toward a better future for all through education and service.

So too do we have a responsibility to our environment. Students have been on the campaign for more recycling options on campus and fewer single use plastics in the dining hall, among other environmental initiatives. However, we as students seem to let these ideas of sustainability and green living die at the edge of campus as we make our Dunks and Target runs to purchase ever more products packaged in useless disposable plastics which inevitably end up being dumped in whichever receptacle is at hand.

We have an incredibly superficial view of our environment and tend to care about what we can see rather than the actual issues. Nobody would tolerate litter in the middle of Alumni Quad, yet we pay no heed to where this litter goes once it is in some other container. This is the same problem currently facing the Merrimack. As we drive over it on our way into Manchester or further on the highway, we may completely ignore its deeply vital currents and green banks, or if we do catch a glimpse of it, we see seemingly clean water running under the bridge, and we treat it as just that, water under the bridge.

The more historically inclined among you may recall the horrific conditions of the Merrimack during the heyday of the mills, where everything from industrial to human waste was simply pitched into the current, yet fewer still realize that the river remains under threat from our human interference. According to the American Rivers non-profit, the Merrimack River was ranked one of the top ten most endangered rivers in the United States in 2016. The increase in commercial and residential development along waterways in the Northeast, along with toxic runoff from roadways, lawns, and farms, and Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) events which allow untreated wastewater to be dumped into the river in times of heavy rain, all contribute to the pollution of the river. Unfortunately, as development increases, so too does runoff from roadways, while simultaneously putting more strain on local sewage systems and reducing essential habitats along the shores of the Merrimack and its tributaries.

While we may not be able to donate large sums of money or purchase great tracts of land as college students, we do have the unmatched ability to do something just as important; we can educate ourselves. We have unique, unrivaled access to one of the greatest educational institutions on the shores of the Merrimack, Saint Anselm College, and we must take advantage of this resource. The Big Thought series, “A River Runs Through Us,” put on by the Grappone Humanities Institute this year is indeed a great starting place to inspire thoughtful conversations about the Merrimack. Yet these conversations must carry over to lessons, and lessons must become actions.

We can not just assume that someone else will take care of the problems we hear about in the classroom or lecture hall, because the health of the river, just as it affected our ancestors, will affect our descendants as well. It is our responsibility as Anselmians to use our privileged position to educate ourselves on the truly important issues which our society faces today and make improvements for the society of tomorrow. The heart of our society is the Merrimack, through which the lifeblood of the region flows to conservation land and mill cities alike. We can not be complacent; we must carry on the momentum of our ancestors’ work and preserve this vital resource for the future.