Shaheen Requests Environmental Protection Agency Delay Final Permits For Exeter, Great Bay Area

Calls for modeling to provide a complete picture of the Bay’s health

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delay any decision on final permits for Exeter and other communities surrounding the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire until a comprehensive model of the Squamscott River has been completed—a way to ensure that scarce resources can best be used to protect water quality.  The permits in question address what can be discharged by local wastewater treatment plants.

“The Great Bay is one of New Hampshire’s greatest treasures and ensuring its continued health and vitality are of the utmost importance to our state and to the communities around the Bay,” Shaheen wrote in today’s letter to Administrator Lisa P. Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency. “The communities face the challenge of ensuring that their already scarce municipal resources are expended appropriately. Completion of the modeling by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services will provide a complete picture of the Bay’s health and the factors affecting water quality.  This, in turn, will provide certainty to the affected communities that any investments required by EPA are appropriate given the science of the water quality modeling. 

The EPA recently issued a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit that imposed a 3-milligram-per-liter limit on the amount of nitrogen the city’s wastewater treatment plant can discharge into the Squamscott River, a tributary of the Great Bay Estuary. 

Exeter and a number of other towns and cities around the Great Bay area have expressed concern that simply addressing nitrogen limits on point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants, may not be the best or most effective way to reverse damage to the Bay and improve water quality. In order to meet the nitrogen limits, cities will need to make costly investments to retrofit their plants with new technology that reduces the amount of nitrogen being released.  These necessary upgrades would likely force cities to raise the sewer rates charged to residents.

Other communities whose wastewater systems ultimately discharge into the Bay will likely receive similar draft permits over the next three years.

The text of today’s letter is below:

April 27, 2011

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

Environmental Protection Agency

Ariel Rios Building

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson:

I am writing to you today to request that EPA delay any decision on final discharge permits for the communities surrounding the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire until comprehensive modeling has been completed. 

Exeter, New Hampshire was recently issued a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit imposing a 3 mg/L limit on nitrogen effluent for the town’s wastewater facility which discharges into the Squamscott River, a tributary of the Great Bay Estuary.  Attainment of this limit will take significant investment by the town and could considerably raise sewer rates in the town. Exeter and a number of other towns and cities around Great Bay who are facing similar limits have expressed concern that simply addressing nitrogen limits on point sources may not be the best or most cost effective solution to help reverse damage to the Bay and improve water quality.

These communities have been working closely with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) on the issue of nutrient limits and are collaborating with NHDES in developing a comprehensive and sophisticated model of the water quality and hydrodynamics of the Squamscott River.  This model will attempt to more closely identify the contributing factors to the high levels of dissolved oxygen in the Great Bay, which many believe are contributing significantly to its degradation. 

The Great Bay is one of New Hampshire’s greatest treasures and ensuring its continued health and vitality are of the utmost importance to our state and to the communities around the Bay.  The communities face the challenge of ensuring that their already scarce municipal resources are expended appropriately. Completion of the modeling by NHDES will provide a complete picture of the Bay’s health and the factors affecting water quality.  This, in turn, will provide certainty to the affected communities that any investments required by EPA them to make are appropriate given the science of the water quality modeling. 

I am respectfully requesting that you delay any decision on final permits for Exeter and other surrounding New Hampshire communities until this modeling has been completed. Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your response.

                                        Sincerely,

 

                                        Jeanne Shaheen

                                        United States Senator

 

Cc: Curt Spalding, EPA Region 1 Administrator

      The Honorable Scott Myers, Mayor, City of Dover

      Todd Selig, Administrator, Town of Durham

      Robert Aldrich, Chair, Exeter Board of Selectmen

      Eric Botterman, Chair, Newmarket Town Council

      The Honorable Tom Ferrini, Mayor, City of Portsmouth

      The Honorable T.J. Jean, Mayor, City of Rochester