Great News for Great Bay

Jeff Barnum

Great news from Exeter, New Hampshire: On Tuesday, the 11, 78% of registered voters said “Yes” to funding the first steps in building a new sewage treatment plant – one that will replace the current, outdated plant that discharges into the Squamscott River, which flows into Great Bay. The $5 million bond issue for planning and engineering required 60% approval. Clearly, Exeter voters see the need to move forward with a new sewage treatment plant that will help bring relief to the nitrogen-plagued Great Bay estuary. This vote is huge for clean water.

Exeter, like neighboring Newmarket (whose residents voted overwhelmingly to fund a major upgrade to its sewage treatment plant), has a final permit from the EPA that regulates nitrogen discharges from the plant and requires that the town develop and institute a plan to reduce nitrogen pollution from stormwater. Excessive nutrients in the estuary have a direct and indirect negative effect on a very complex ecosystem. Nitrogen coming from sewage treatment plants and polluted stormwater can be reduced if we have the will to do so. The folks in Exeter obviously have the will to do just that.

A recently formed group of clean water advocates undertook some initiatives prior to the vote to help gain a positive outcome. I applaud their willingness to step up to the plate, do a little work, and help achieve a great result for the Squamscott River and Great Bay. Committed citizen activists always make a difference.

Not only did Exeter residents approve funding towards a new sewage treatment plant, they also voted to remove a centuries-old head-of-tide dam on the Squamscott/Exeter River. The Great Dam has contributed to several environmental concerns: it blocks anadromous fish passage, lowers dissolved oxygen content in the water behind the dam, and worsens upriver flooding. Removal of this dam will create only the second free-flowing river into Great Bay. You can read Exeter resident David O’Hearn’s blog post on this vote titled “Great Dam removal x 2”. David was recently featured in CLF’s “Faces of Great Bay”.

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