State Faces Water Quality Challenges, Per New Report

The following editorial was written by the Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services

Concord–March 12, 2013–There may be no better way to see how our environment supports a vibrant state economy than to consider our reliance on water. First, tourism is a mainstay of our economy, and much of our tourism is water-based or is supported by clean rivers, lakes, and ocean waters. Second, high-quality water bodies and recreational opportunities are critical to the excellent quality of life that helps to attract employers and an educated work force to New Hampshire and support the “New Hampshire advantage.” Third, reliable water services such as clean drinking water, reliable wastewater disposal and properly maintained dams provide essential support to New Hampshire’s economy.

We would like to think that our high-quality water resources and water services will always be here, that our quality of life will only improve, and that our infrastructure will always support a strong economy. But according to the Water Sustainability Commission, appointed by Governor John Lynch in 2011, New Hampshire faces new water-related challenges now and in the coming years, and new approaches are needed to ensure that our state will have enough clean water for future generations.

“New Hampshire Lives on Water” is the Water Sustainability Commission’s highly readable 28-page report, urging government and the private sector to work together on long-term approaches to addressing water issues. The report identifies four key areas that need to be addressed: water-related education, infrastructure investment, forward-looking management approaches, and environmental monitoring.

The Commission’s 14 members represented a broad range of perspectives on water needs, use, and management. Only two members – the Director of the N.H. Fish and Game Department and I – represented state government agencies; the rest represented municipalities and the private and non-profit sectors. The Commission reviewed previous work, consulted with experts, and conducted an extensive public participation process, which included public forums in six locations throughout the state.

An overview of the Commission’s findings makes it clear that there is no room for complacency:

  • New Hampshire residents recognize the importance of water to their quality of life, but many are asking for more information about their role in ensuring a sustainable water future for New Hampshire.
  • Residents are increasingly concerned about access to and control of water and water supplies.
  • New Hampshire is experiencing declining water quality in some of our lakes, rivers and estuaries.
  • Extreme weather events are increasingly frequent, causing problems with water quality, storm water systems, flooding, and the ability of water systems to meet customers’ needs.
  • The state’s water infrastructure, last extensively upgraded in the 1970s and 1980s, is aging and increasingly inadequate to meet present needs.
  • Water issues vary from one part of the state to another. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that solves problems from the North Country to the Seacoast. At the same time, although the quality of groundwater varies from place to place, private wells throughout the state should be tested for naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic and radon and for manmade contaminants such as MtBE so that homeowners can take appropriate action to protect their families’ health.
  • Investment is needed to protect our water resources and maintain our water infrastructure if the state wants to maintain its water-derived economic advantage.

It bears repeating that the Commission felt that the water challenges we face now and will face in the future are different than those of the past; therefore, it is time for a departure from the solutions of the past. Today’s water problems are more complex and require smarter approaches and more resources to address them. The solutions require the involvement of not just state and local governments, but businesses, institutions, individuals, and the Legislature. Clean water, where and when we need it, is a renewable resource only if we manage it effectively. We owe its care to our children and their children. The work must begin now.

You can view the report on the Water Sustainability Commission’s website at this link. You can also learn more about some of New Hampshire’s water challenges and the work underway to address them by registering for the 2013 New Hampshire Water and Watershed Conference, which will take place March 22, World Water Day.

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