New Hampshire's Great Bay

"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

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A busy waterfront, the shipyard, Pease, restaurants, those iconic bridges, and a rich-but-fragile environmental landscape are just some of the things that put Portsmouth so boldly on the map.

During live interviews Tuesday, All Things Considered host Peter Biello and guests discussed some of what Portsmouth has going for itself, as well as a few challenges.

The live show was at Portsmouth Book & Bar, with Mayor Jack Blalock the first of five guests. 

Eversource

Opponents of a new Eversource transmission line on the Seacoast are asking the state Supreme Court to review the project, even as construction gets underway.

The Conservation Law Foundation and residents of Durham filed appeals Monday on the Site Evaluation Committee's decision last December to let construction of the “Seacoast Reliability Project” proceed.

USACE/Eversource

Eversource plans to break ground on a new Seacoast transmission line within two weeks.

But the utility still needs a federal permit to build in the Great Bay area, and environmental advocates want a public hearing before that permit is issued.

Eversource is seeking a Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Port City Air

A major settlement signed Friday will require Pease International Tradeport to clean up water pollution from its stormwater runoff.

The Pease Development Authority was sued more than two years ago by the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation for federal Clean Water Act violations.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The state Site Evaluation Committee has given Eversource the green light to build a new transmission line on the Seacoast.

They voted unanimously Monday to certify the so-called Seacoast Reliability Project, after more than two weeks of exhaustive deliberations.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

State regulators are in final talks about whether to approve a new transmission line on the Seacoast.

After two days of deliberations, the Site Evaluation Committee has agreed that the Seacoast Reliability Project meets some of the criteria required by state law.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

At least 150 Seacoast residents packed a state hearing Thursday night to urge regulators to reject a proposed transmission line.

Eversource and the region’s grid operator, ISO-New England, say the 13-mile line between Madbury and Portsmouth is vital to improve electric reliability in the region.

The project’s $84 million pricetag would be spread across all New England ratepayers.

But residents like Robert Raymond of Newington want the utility to do and spend more to reduce local impacts, or call the project off altogether.

EPA

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt was in New Hampshire Tuesday for an unpublicized private meeting with Gov. Chris Sununu.

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt confirmed Sununu and Pruitt met privately in the morning, and said they had no other "stops scheduled later" in the day.

A statement from Sununu sent Tuesday afternoon says the two discussed the Coakley Landfill Superfund site, where the EPA plans to test bedrock to see if contamination is spreading in the local water supply. 

Annie Ropeik for NHPR

New Hampshire's Great Bay and the Piscataqua River estuary have been in bad shape for years – and the latest data doesn't show a lot of improvement.

But scientists say there's still hope for the watershed, and they're trying to home in on things people can control.

Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve

An estuary is where freshwater rivers meet the ocean, making up a fragile yet vital eco-system for wildlife, fish, and people.  Now a new report on the Great Bay and Hampton-Seabrook Estuaries shows continuing trouble for this region, and introduces comprehensive strategies for keeping the area healthy. 

GUESTS:

A new report on the environmental health of Great Bay and surrounding waterways says those ecosystems continue to decline.

The report comes from the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, or PREP. The group is funded by the EPA and administered by UNH. Every five years, they rate the health of the Seacoast’s estuaries using 23 indicators.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

More intense storms are making it harder for freshwater streams and rivers to act as filters for nitrogen pollution, according to a new UNH study.

The research suggests larger storms could cause more harmful runoff to reach coasts and lakes.

Nitrogen comes from lots of things people put in the land – like fertilizer and sewage. Rain and snow wash that pollution into streams and rivers.

But UNH researcher Wil Wollheim says those waterways can usually clean out the nitrogen before it reaches the coast.

The future of a proposed utility project on the Seacoast is facing new uncertainty.

The Site Evaluation Committee on Monday said all scheduled hearings on an Eversource plan to build a transmission line across the Seacoast will be postponed indefinitely. The SEC says the process can't go on without a final report from the Department of Environmental Services on the potential impacts of the project.

Jason Moon for NHPR

With Congress out on its annual August recess, New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has been enjoying more time in the state.

On Thursday, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen spent the afternoon exploring Great Bay.

Senator Shaheen’s visit to Great Bay felt a lot like a school field trip.

It began at UNH’s Jackson Laboratory on Adam’s Point, where one scientist after another showcased their research on Great Bay’s marine life.

From investigating whether the invasive green crab problem could turn into a local culinary opportunity.

www.ci.durham.nh.us

State and federal officials plan to release dye into the Oyster River this week in an effort to study how water flows from a sewage plant along the river.

Beginning Tuesday night, officials with state and federal environmental agencies will inject a reddish dye into the town of Durham’s wastewater treatment plant for about 12 hours.

The experiment is designed to shed light on how wastewater flows from the plant. It could lead to new boundaries for where shellfish harvesting is allowed.

Chris Nash is with the state Department of Environmental Services.

Jason Moon for NHPR

Disputes between utility companies and local residents over new power lines are a familiar story. But on New Hampshire's Seacoast, a version of that story is playing out with a few twists. For one, the power lines would go underwater. And two, they would go through a town that prides itself on its history of opposing energy projects.

A new study from the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy says towns in the Great Bay watershed stand to save a lot of money if they can coordinate their efforts at reducing the amount of nitrogen entering the bay.

Communities in the Great Bay watershed have been tasked with lowering the amount of nitrogen entering the bay by federal and state regulators for years now.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Earlier this week, the city of Portsmouth approved 75 million dollars in bonds to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant on Peirce Island. The vote by the city council is a milestone in the years-long effort by federal and state regulators to clean up Great Bay.

The condition of New Hampshire’s Great Bay Estuary has been one of the biggest environmental priorities in New Hampshire for decades -- and NHPR has been covering the story extensively.

We were there in 2010, when the Environmental Protection Agency designated Great Bay as officially impaired – meaning it could mandate upgrades to wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the estuary.

Min Lee via Flickr CC

New Hampshire health, environment and wildlife officials are holding a public meeting on shellfish rules for 2015.

The information session set for Tuesday night in Portsmouth will be an opportunity for the public to hear about a dye tracking study that traced effluent flows from the Pierce Island wastewater treatment facility to Little Harbor and areas of Portsmouth Harbor out to Odiorne Point. Officials say that study indicates that shellfish harvesting in those areas need to be closed.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

  At 4:30 in the morning, a worker unloading number six oil from a barge at the Sprague River Terminal in Newington, smells fumes. He finds a leaking pipeline, and radios to stop the pumping, but already there are an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil in the river.

It sounds scary, but as the crackling voices over the radio in the boat supervising the cleanup make clear, there’s nothing to fear. Before every transmission, they declare, “This is a drill, this is a drill.”

Pembleton / Flickr CC

Data released Friday shows that a crucial piece of the ecosystem of the Great Bay estuary continued a seventeen-year downward trend.

Eel-grass is a big deal to the Great Bay. According to Rachel Rouillard, the executive director of the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), “eelgrass is like our canary in the coal-mine, it’s a fundamental underpinning of the health and vitality of the whole system.”

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

There are many challenges to a good town-gown relationship in college towns, but here’s one that doesn’t get a great deal of press: urine overloads.

On certain nights of the week, partying UNH students in Durham can overwhelm the town’s wastewater treatment plant, but a group of UNH students have teamed up with the town to get some of that nitrogen-rich urine out of the water. They plan to take that pee, and put it somewhere that it could do good.

Flikr Creative Commons / Rickpilot_2000

There is a hint of light at the end of a two-year-long legal battle over waste-water treatment plant upgrades on the Great Bay.

The towns of Portsmouth, Rochester and Dover have been arguing that regulators with the Department of Environmental Services and the EPA hadn’t proved that requiring millions of dollars of state-of-the-art wastewater plants would substantially improve water quality. But after a panel of independent scientists issued a sharp critique of the science used by the DES, a deal could be on the horizon.

Children Learn To Be Good Stewards Of The Great Bay

Feb 1, 2014
Cheryl Senter

The Great Bay Stewards work to preserve and protect the Great Bay estuary through education, land protection and research. Sharon Musselman, one of the educators, is recently a retired teacher who often brought her own classes here to explore this ecosystem.

"I'm excited to be here at Great Bay Discover center," Musselman said. "I brought my first grade class to Great Bay for 15 years because it is such a great experience for first graders."

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Meanwhile, many of the stresses that threaten water quality – more waste-water, increased runoff from pavement, and fewer forests to naturally filter water – increase hand-in-hand with development. Those in the conservation community say the cheapest route is to keep water clean by putting land into conservation, instead of trying to clean it up after it’s already a mess. No-where is the tension between environmental quality and more acute, than on the seacoast, in the communities of the Great Bay.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Several   seacoast communities have been ordered to upgrade their waste-water treatment plants by the EPA.But towns are pushing back on the question of how much the plants need to improve.

Durham is in that boat. The town is trying a new approach to pollution control called adaptive management. And depending on how things go for Durham, this could be the way the way towns and the EPA will resolve difficult and expensive water problems going forward.

The Nitrogen Numbers

Children Learn To Be Good Stewards Of The Great Bay

Aug 3, 2013
Cheryl Senter

The Great Bay Stewards work to preserve and protect the Great Bay estuary through education, land protection and research. Sharon Musselman, one of the educators, is recently a retired teacher who often brought her own classes here to explore this ecosystem.

"I'm excited to be here at Great Bay Discover center," Musselman said. "I brought my first grade class to Great Bay for 15 years because it is such a great experience for first graders."

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

On the dock of Great Bay Marine, there’s what looks like a little raft tied up, but get close and you hear the hum of a water pump. This is where Fat Dog Oyster Company is based.

Reporter Sam Evans-Brown recently spent a day with Jay Baker and Alex Boeri of Fat Dog for his story on the boom in oystering in N.H.'s Great Bay Estuary. You can check out more of his photos and sound in this 2-minute video:

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Oyster farming in the Great Bay Estuary is in the midst of a little bit of a boom. In recent years, the number of oyster farms has leapt from 1 to 8, with more on the way. These gains are boosting the hopes that using these filter feeders as an “outside-the-pipes” way to clean up the waters of the Great Bay could become a reality.

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