New EPA Permit Will Advance Pollution Control Plans At State Fish Hatchery

Dec 23, 2019

Nutrient pollution from the state fish hatchery has caused cyanobacteria blooms and closed the Merrymeeting River to swimming and fishing in recent years.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR News

UPDATE: The draft permit was issued Dec. 31 and is open for public comment until Feb. 14, 2020. Click here for details. Original story continues below: 

A state fish hatchery facing a federal water pollution lawsuit will soon receive a key new permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The suit comes from neighbors of the state's largest fish hatchery, Powder Mill in New Durham.

The neighbors and environmental advocates with the Conservation Law Foundation say the facility has overloaded the Merrymeeting River with nutrients like phosphorus from unfiltered fish waste.

The toxic algae blooms this causes can harm swimmers and have degraded the river, which feeds Lake Winnipesaukee.

State Rep. Michael Harrington, a Republican from Strafford who’s been working on the issue, says he’s disappointed the State Fish & Game Department let the problem get this bad.

“Let’s be quite honest, if this was a private company that was doing this, some agency would have stepped in five, ten years ago and said ‘stop it, or fix the problem,’ and it probably would have been corrected,” Harrington says.

The state hatchery’s current EPA permit is years out of date. Once the new one is finalized after public comment, Harrington says it’ll help the state design and plan funding for a new water treatment system at the hatchery within the next few years.

"Even after they put the fix in, it's still going to take a while for this to clean itself up - but it will clean itself up. The first thing we've got to do is stop making it worse."

The state has already moved some fish stock programs out of the hatchery to cut down on waste.

The advocates behind the lawsuit say the facility shouldn’t be putting out any pollution into the Merrymeeting River. Harrington says he doesn't think that's realistic.