Environmental capital is defined as “the stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources available in a locality or region” (Green & Haines, 254). Lowell owes its history and sense of place to a renewable resource: the Merrimack river. Because of its proximity to the river and Pawtucket Falls, the city was able to power its famous textile mills with water at the start of the industrial revolution. The Merrimack is a valuable resource that provided energy and transport for its booming population in the mid-19th century. Thanks to the river, Lowell was able to develop as a city and boasts a population of about 110,000 today (US Census Bureau).
The Merrimack is a vital part of the community today as well. Turbines from preserved mills, as well as a hydroelectric plant, serve as clean energy sources for the city. The river is also “the second largest surface drinking water source in New England” (Lowell National Historical Park). It has also helped build Lowell’s sense of community. The Riverwalk on Pawtucket Boulevard is a lovely place to stroll, gather, and hold events.
Unfortunately, the river suffers from major non-point source pollution. During the 1800s, dams, mills, and human waste contributed to the disappearance of fish in the Merrimack. Sewage was continually dumped into the river until around the 1990s. The city and other communities along it have called for reform, but occasional runoff still pollutes the body of water. As of now, the Merrimack is still unfit for swimming.
The Clean River Project is an organization working to clean up the river. According to their website, their mission is to “clean, protect, and provide a safer water supply to the many cities and towns who rely heavily on this natural resource”. The non-profit has brought the communities around the river together and improved water quality by organizing an annual Merrimack River Scavenger Hunt and a tire clean out day.
The Merrimack River is an example of incredibly valuable natural capital. Working to clean and protect so that future generations can utilize it is a sustainable practice.
Clean River Project (n.d) About Us. Retrieved from http://www.cleanriverproject.org/about-us/
Green & Haines (2016) Asset Building & Community Development: Fourth Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Lowell National Historical Park (n.d) The Merrimack River. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/lowe/planyourvisit/upload/River.pdf
US Census Bureau (2015) 2015 Population Estimates. Retrieved from http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml