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Fish & Game May Face Lawsuit Over Water Pollution From Largest State Hatchery

Annie Ropeik

New Hampshire’s Department of Fish & Game is facing a potential lawsuit over water pollution from its largest fish hatchery.

The Conservation Law Foundation told the state Thursday it plans to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit this fall, unless the state begins working to fix the alleged problems within 60 days.

The Powder Mill hatchery in New Durham grows trout and salmon to stock state fishing areas, and it’s expanded in the past decade or so.

Now, CLF says it’s exceeding its Environmental Protection Agency permit for the nutrients in the water it discharges into the Merrymeeting River, which feeds into Lake Winnipesaukee.

(Read CLF's letter to New Hampshire Fish & Game.)

CLF's New Hampshire director Tom Irwin says the river has become loaded with nutrients from fish food and waste, and that tests show the water quality is much higher upstream of the hatchery than downstream.

That’s where people like Russ Weldon live, swim, boat and fish on the small ponds and marshes that dot the river.

“Fishermen should be more shocked than anyone that what Fish & Game is doing – in selling them a license to go out, and supply[ing] fish to them – is actually killing the very resource that they so much believe in and the sport that they so much enjoy,” he says.

Weldon spoke at a press conference just down the road from the hatchery in front of Jones Pond, which is currently under a state cyanobacteria advisory that warns against swimming or even touching the water.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
The dark-green algae seen clouding the bottom of this pond on the Merrymeeting River can be a breeding ground for cyanobacteria.

The bacteria can cause rashes and gastrointestinal problems in humans and their pets, and it’s been linked to more serious neurological diseases.

Weldon says New Durham residents never saw those advisories or any harmful algae blooms in their ponds until around 2015.

Since then, he says many neighbors have taken in their docks to protect their kids and grandkids from the bacteria in the water. He says it’s hurting their ecosystems, property values and quality of life.

“This water has been rendered useless,” he says.

In an email to NHPR Thursday afternoon, Fish & Game executive director Glenn Normandeau said he hadn’t seen CLF’s notice, but “we are in compliance with our current EPA discharge permits at our hatcheries.”

The state attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment on how it will answer CLF's notice.

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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