Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Double Drawing Happening Now: You Could Win $1,000 in home heating!
0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8a390002"A national treasure in our backyard"It spans more than 13,000 acres. Nearly a quarter of the state’s population lives within its watershed. In a 2010 series, Amy Quinton looked at the trouble pollution poses to the health of this critical estuary, and some proposed solutions for returning the Seacoast’s Great Bay to health.Now, NHPR's Environment Reporter Sam Evans-Brown brings you continuing coverage of the efforts being made in the Great Bay.Coverage supported by Penn State Public Media.Great Bay Watershed Map | More Great Bay Images

Seacoast Cities Settle With Nonprofit To Move Forward On Great Bay Restoration

Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve

New runoff controls are coming to Great Bay after three adjacent cities reached an agreement with the Conservation Law Foundation to avert an appeal of a key federal water quality permit.  

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the long-awaited permit for a dozen towns around Great Bay last year.

It takes an unusual collective approach to limit nitrogen runoff into the protected estuary from sources like wastewater plants, septic systems and paved surfaces.

Excess nitrogen in the water can lead to algae blooms and harm the eelgrass beds that hold the bay’s sediment in place, degrading the whole ecosystem and making it less resilient to storms and other pollution.

The nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation has worked on this issue for years. It cautioned the new permit wasn't strict enough to hold towns accountable, especially for controlling non-point nitrogen sources that contribute the majority of runoff in the bay.

But the EPA and the towns said an appeal would scuttle the whole process, which has already dragged on for years.  

Now, CLF has reached an agreement to avoid that prospect with three cities: Rochester, Dover and Portsmouth, which together account for about half of the bay’s nitrogen load.

The cities have agreed to make what CLF calls “reasonable progress” in the next few years on a range of innovative practices to limit nitrogen runoff – including drainage improvements, new catch basins, fertilizer changes, public outreach and oyster bed restorations. Some are already planned, and some would be pilot programs.

In exchange, the CLF says it won't appeal the permit. The group’s Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper Melissa Paly called the agreement an “inflection point” to begin restoring a federally protected water body, often called "the jewel of the Seacoast."

“This has been a long and contentious road to reduce nitrogen pollution in the estuary,” Paly said. “After many, many years, it’s really gratifying to see municipalities coming together, working more collaboratively with CLF and other stakeholders to start down a new path, and hopefully the estuary will be the better for it.”

In the coming months, more of the towns covered by the permit expect to reach broader agreements on how they’ll collaboratively meet the EPA’s mandate. The EPA says it expects all covered towns will opt in to participating in the permit’s collective structure.

If the new water quality goals aren’t met within five years, the EPA says it plans to issue a stricter, more traditional permit in place of the current one.

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.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.