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First Grant From State Drinking Water Fund Will Upgrade Colebrook's 'Leakiest System'

John K via Flickr CC

The town of Colebrook is the first to get money from a state trust fund for water infrastructure upgrades.

It comes from New Hampshire’s $236 million settlement with Exxon Mobil in 2015, over contamination from a gasoline additive known as MtBE.

Last fall, the state’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Commission picked nine projects to get MtBE trust fund grants. On Wednesday, Colebrook’s became the first to get approval from the governor and executive council.

Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the funding is a promise of his administration to help towns like Colebrook with infrastructure improvements, in this case, water and sewer utilities along Main Street.

"For years, we have heard how the state could not control local property taxes, but what we have done is use our Drinking and Groundwater Trust Fund grants to give our local towns more flexibility to target key areas of need," Sununu said in a statement.

In a statement, Senate President and commission chair Chuck Morse, R-Salem, says the town's $1.15 million grant “serves as an example of what we hope to continue to do with this fund in order to address other urgent and emerging water supply needs across the state.”

Colebrook, in far north Coos County, will use the money to replace aging, leaky water mains and the service lines that connect them to users. They'll also buy new, "smart" meters that let customers track water use in real time.

Town spokesman Greg Placy says that'll free up local money for sewer upgrades they couldn't afford otherwise.

"Economically efficient, environmentally efficient – we're making a better system,” he says.

Local officials say they're told Colebrook has the leakiest water system in the state. It loses up to 70 percent of its supply between the local aquifer and people's taps.

The state says more of the first round of drinking water grants should get final approval in the coming weeks. They include other projects in the North Country, as well as on the Seacoast.

Click on the map to see the other drinking water grants on tap for approval: 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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