NRWA volunteers stencil warnings on storm drains to help prevent pollution - Photo by Martha Morgan

Tracking Sources of Bacterial Contamination

The Cities of Fitchburg and Leominster are both striving to make recreation and outdoor pursuits along the North Nashua River feasible and more attractive. The NRWA’s water monitoring data indicates that the North Nashua River is the river reach of highest concern in the Nashua River watershed. The monitoring shows that water quality does not always meet the state standards for boating and swimming.

NRWA volunteers help to make the Nashua River cleaner and more attractive - Photo by Martha MorganWith funding from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust from 2009 through 2011, the NRWA and the City of Fitchburg successfully worked together to track and eliminate sources of bacteria in storm drains and buried streams leading to the North Nashua River and its tributaries. Using data from the NRWA’s monitoring program to determine where high bacteria (E.coli) results were detected in the river, samples were then taken from nearby outfalls or pipes flowing in the area. The flow was then followed up the pipe through the stormwater system to determine where counts were the highest. The area of highest contamination was then investigated through means such as in-home dye testing to help pinpoint the exact location of the problem. Some contamination sources were tracked to cracked sewer pipes, and some to a crossed connection from sewer to storm drain, or even an illicit hookup to the storm system. NRWA continues to work with the City as funding is available.

As part of the project, the NRWA also worked with students from the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center in Fitchburg on storm drain stenciling in English and Spanish, and worked with students from the Fitchburg Public High School on making displays to model sewer infrastructure. The goal of these activities was to help students to understand how stormwater is managed in their community and how it impacts their local water quality.

NRWA staff also worked with the City of Leominster to collect samples at targeted locations to locate pollution sources and determine nutrient concentrations in their community. Results of sampling were shared with the Department of Public Works in both communities within a week of testing.