EPA to regulate nitrogen pollution in Great Bay

Tom Irwin | @TomIrwinNH

Credit: Cynthia Irwin

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency took an important step in putting New Hampshire’s Great Bay estuary on the path to recovery.  As a direct result of CLF’s advocacy, EPA issued a draft Clean Water Act discharge permit for the Exeter sewage treatment plant requiring — for the first time — nitrogen pollution limits.

Exeter’s facility — one of the largest sewage treatment plants in New Hampshire’s Seacoast — discharges directly into the Squamscott River, which flows downstream into Great Bay.  As EPA’s fact sheet for the draft permit explains, EPA began the re-permitting process for the Exeter plant in 2007.  Noting significant pollution problems in the Squamscott River and Great Bay, CLF objected to the 2007 draft permit for its failure to regulate nitrogen.  Based on those concerns, as well as further data showing the estuary’s decline — including the loss of essential seagrass habitat — EPA’s draft permit now proposes much-needed discharge limits to control nitrogen pollution from the Exeter sewage treatment plant.

Finally controlling nitrogen pollution from this significant discharge will be essential to protecting the health of the Squamscott River, which has experienced excessive levels of chlorophyll-a, depressed levels of oxygen, and the loss of important eelgrass habitat.   It also will help tackle nitrogen pollution problems in Great Bay.  But as EPA and the Department of Environmental Services know, reducing pollution from stormwater and other sewage treatment plants will be critical for the health of the Great Bay estuary.  Of the 18 sewage treatment plants discharging into the estuary, not one has a nitrogen pollution limit.  Exeter’s will be the first, and it’s an important step in the right direction.

EPA’s draft permit will be finalized after a public comment period which expires July 22.  A public hearing on the draft permit is scheduled for June 9 (6:30 p.m. at Exeter Town Hall).  You can help secure needed protections for the Squamscott River and Great Bay by weighing in!

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