Tracking Bacteria Pollution in the Lower Concord River

Over the last four years, OARS’ program to monitor E. coli, a fecal indicator bacteria, has consistently shown higher than acceptable levels in the Concord River at the Roger's Street bridge in Lowell. In 2020 we conducted a study that identified River Meadow Brook as the likely source of this bacterial pollution. Between 2020 and 2022, with funding support from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, we have been intensively studying River Meadow Brook to track down the sources of the bacterial pollution.
River Meadow Brook flows from Westford and Chelmsford through Lowell into the Concord River just above the Rogers St. bridge. By the time it enters the Concord river, it is heavily polluted. Water samples collected by volunteer citizen scientists during the summers of 2020, 2021, and 2022 were analyzed to identify the distribution of E. coli bacteria. The results showed that rather than a single “smoking gun” there are several probable sources of bacteria that may include sewage, stormwater, dogs, and geese.

For detailed results and analysis, check out our 2022 Report on River Meadow Brook Bacteria Monitoring Results.

DNA Analysis

In 2022, OARS collected samples for DNA analysis at the downstream sampling site. The samples were collected concurrently with high bacteria counts and analyzed for four species (human, beaver, goose, and dog). The results provided strong indication that the primary source of the bacteria in River Meadow Brook is humans, but we were also surprised to learn that a significant portion of the DNA were from beavers and a relatively small amount were from dogs.

Detergent Survey

In 2022, we also conducted a survey of detergent levels in River Meadow Brook and in the outfall pipes that empty into it. Detergent surveys are an inexpensive way to identify water sources that come from buildings where detergents or soap are used. As a result of this survey, we were able to identify three pipes with elevated detergent levels. These pipes could also be sources of bacteria pollution. We are sharing the location of these pipes with the Lowell Wastewater utility.

Please see our full reports for more details and analysis:

OARS is working with the City of Lowell and upstream towns to eliminate this bacteria pollution. Our goal is to make River Meadow Brook and the Concord River safe for human contact through swimming, wading and exploring. The Concord River is currently considered safe for boating and fishing-but not for eating the fish!

This work was made possible through funding from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation.