N.H. Advocates: Trump’s New Water Rule Will Enable Development, Pollution | New Hampshire Public Radio

N.H. Advocates: Trump’s New Water Rule Will Enable Development, Pollution

Jan 24, 2020

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New Hampshire environmentalists and lawmakers say a new Trump administration rule could lead to more drinking water pollution.

The rule is a replacement for the Obama-era regulation known as Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS. Trump has long argued it was too burdensome to farmers and developers.

Trump’s now-final WOTUS replacement will remove federal oversight from millions of miles of wetlands and streams that don't feed directly into navigable waterways.

New Hampshire officials have previously said that this won't affect state oversight of those water bodies. 

But critics – including some in Trump's own Environmental Protection Agency – say the change isn't based on sound science.

State Sen. Tom Sherman, a Rye Democrat, addressed the issue at a press conference on drinking water issues in Portsmouth Friday. He says the rule change will allow risky real estate expansion into new areas that now lack protection.

“The short term is, yes, you get more houses on the waterway – but you get more pollution, you get less scenic beauty,” which, Sherman says, will hinder tourism and economic development.

“It’s absolutely counter-intuitive for the state of New Hampshire to be embracing loosening those protections we’ve fought so hard for over the last few decades,” Sherman says.

Governor Chris Sununu supported the WOTUS rollback in a letter to then-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt in 2017.

Advocates say the reform will also put drinking water supplies at risk.

The smaller waterways that will now be unregulated are still part of interconnected systems that feed aquifers and rivers, says New Hampshire Sierra Club director Catherine Corkery. 

"Having unregulated dumping and unregulated development really puts our drinking water at risk,” she says.

She says it's a particular threat for private well users, who make up about half of New Hampshire residents, and who aren't required to routinely test their water for contaminants.

Corkery says the rollback is likely to draw further lawsuits. Those, plus the pollution challenges she says the law will generate, are costly to the public.

"This is not only a stress on our environment,” Corkery says. “There's a lot of real taxpayer dollars going to waste for these whims of polluters and the friends of polluters."

The new rule takes effect in about two months.