LOWELL — Eleven diapers, 214 hypodermic needles, 196 glass bottles, 14 bicycles, 68 propane tanks and even a full case of beer: This list makes up a fraction of the 12.35 tons of debris the Clean River Project fished out of the Merrimack River — within the borders of Lowell — from June 19 to Oct. 1.
Add in the nearly two tons of debris that Clean River Project Office Manager Kristin Bachmann said the nonprofit pulled from sections of the city’s canal system, and you have a total of roughly 14.2 tons of filth the nonprofit removed from Lowell waters.
The Clean River Project — a volunteer group created 16 years ago by Rocky Morrison to keep the Merrimack River clean — used floating net booms to assist in removing the colossal amount of trash. The strategically placed booms are designed with flotation devices at the river’s surface, with permeable netting underwater that captures debris floating downstream.
“The current and the wind direction bring all the floatables into the area, and the booms trap all the trash,” Morrison said. “They work awesome. They’re very good at collecting hypodermic needles, but it grabs everything. It grabs trees, it grabs tires. Whatever floats down the river.”
The loads of captured trash are then removed from the river by a boat fitted with an hydraulic arm that scoops the debris out of the water.
“Everything is then brought to shore, sorted out,” Morrison said. “What needs to be recycled is recycled, needles are collected.”
Many of the items pulled from the river are tallied by the nonprofit to keep track of the impact the volunteer organization has on the river’s health.
The Clean River Project is contracted by the city of Lowell to depollute the Merrimack. According to Mark Young, executive director of Lowell’s Water Utility Department, the city contract with the Clean River Project for this calendar year cost $30,454.
Young was unable to say for sure the city would continue with the contract next season, but he believes the nonprofit’s impact is well worth the cost. He pointed to the positive impacts the Clean River Project’s work has on the city’s environment, wildlife, as well as on boater and swimmer safety.
“Unfortunately people use the river to dump things in,” Young said. “It’s just unfortunate. It’s a good resource we have. A beautiful resource, and people abuse it.”
The Environmental Protection Agency says the Merrimack River watershed is the fourth-largest watershed in New England, encompassing 5,010 square miles. According to the EPA, the Merrimack River also provides drinking water for about 500,000 people in Lowell, Methuen, Andover, Tewksbury and Lawrence. Morrison cites this number when talking about the important work done by his nonprofit.
“If you take the stuff out of the river, it’s…