News Announcement

Newburyport installing signs to warn of CSOs

Five permanent notification signs will alert residents when there’s a combined sewage overflow in the Merrimack River.

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash
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NEWBURYPORT — The city will soon have a better way of alerting residents when there’s a combined sewage overflow in the Merrimack River, thanks to five permanent notification signs being installed this week.

Roughly 550 million gallons of raw sewage is released into the river on an annual basis and the Merrimack River Watershed Council estimates there are 40 to 60 such combined sewage overflows per year.

Local public health departments are required by the state to provide signs at public water access points, letting people know when a CSO lasts more than two hours, or if it could pose a health risk.

In July, the Board of Health began issuing public health warnings for CSOs at five locations along the river each time there was an incident.

Public Health Director Laura Vlasuk said the city is installing permanent signs in those locations that will include a QR code which people can scan with their cell phones and take directly to the city website ( for further, real-time information.

“The QR code is right on the sign and all you have to do is just click on it and check things. We want to let people know when these incidents occur in real time,” she said.

The CSO activation signs will be placed at Moseley Woods, Cashman Park, the boat ramp area near Tuscan Sea Grill & Bar restaurant, the Joppa Flats boat ramp and Plum Island Beach.

Harbormaster Paul Hogg said having a permanent place to post QR codes will give residents and boaters a chance to stay up to date on water conditions.

“This really streamlines things and it will be good to get the word out. You can go right on your phone and see what is going on,” he said.

The city will also continue to post CSO alerts on its website and send alert notifications to subscribers after each incident.

“I urge everyone to sign up for the alerts but sometimes people don’t want to have constant notification,” Vlasuk said. “So, this way, they can check it when they’re going in the water.”

The new sign system will also cut down on public manhours, according to Vlasuk.

“This way, we’re not having people go out and actually post these signs every time there is an alert and you can get accurate information as it is happening,” she said.

Hogg said his department works with the Health Department at least once a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day to test local waters.

“People really aren’t supposed to be swimming in the river but they will often pull their boats up to to sandbars, like the ones off of Joppa Flats and let their dogs go in swimming at low tide,” he said. “So, we want to let them know what’s happened and to be careful.”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@ or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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