Green Slime or Clean Water: What’s the Future of Great Bay?

Peter Wellenberger

An algae bloom in the Winnicut River, NH. Photo by Peter Wellenberger.

A week ago I had the pleasure of attending an event to celebrate the restoration of a tidal river. The Winnicut River – primarily located in Greenland, NH – is now the only dam-free river in the Great Bay estuary. Thanks to the hard work of the Winnicut River Watershed Coalition and numerous state and federal agencies, the project includes a new fish passage and, in addition to the dam removal, a restored shoreline.

Despite being a beautiful July summer day, the event was marred by one distinct image. The free-flowing river now supports a large area of abnormal algae growth – the direct result of excessive nutrients. Standing on the water’s edge, it was impossible to miss the mat of green slime. This certainly put a damper on the celebration.

The Winnicut River is not the only site in the estuary where algae is now taking over. Large mats of macroaglae can be found in the Lubberland Creek area, and algae has been taking over places where eelgrass – the ecological cornerstone of the estuary – historically grew. However, the Winnicut River provides a valuable lesson that despite our best efforts, the Great Bay estuary faces the risk of further degradation that could lead to a collapse of its sensitive ecosystem. Our only option is to invest in the needed improvements to our infrastructure to dramatically reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution from wastewater treatment plants and stormwater.

This is why it’s so important to build a stronger voice for the estuary, and why I’ve been working so hard to build the Rescue Great Bay coalition. In a previous blog, I discussed the formation of this new collaboration – at that time consisting of eight founding members: the NH chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, the NH Coastal Protection Partnership, the Great Bay chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Town of Newington, the Winnicut River Watershed Coalition, the NH Rivers Council, EcoMovement, and CLF’s Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper.  I’m pleased to say that in the last month alone, six more organizations have joined the effort – the Great Bay Stewards, New Hampshire Audubon, the Exeter-Squamscott Local Advisory Committee, the Lamprey River Watershed Association, the Oyster River Watershed Association, and Green Power Management Holdings, Inc. of Newmarket, NH.

As Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper, I’m pleased to serve as the lead for Rescue Great Bay. We are building a common voice for Great Bay to educate the public about the need for immediate action to clean up the estuary. Everyone has who has joined the group understands what is at stake – the longer we wait to take corrective actions, the more the estuary is at risk.

Part of our effort is to show that the public cares about the Great Bay estuary and wants to see meaningful action.  Toward that end, we now have a “Rescue Great Bay” petition that hundreds of people throughout the Seacoast have signed.  It reads:

“We, the undersigned, believe that clean water and a healthy Great Bay estuary are essential to the quality of life in New Hampshire’s Seacoast region and southern Maine.

“We also recognize that the health of the Great Bay estuary is in decline as a result of  water pollution from sewage treatment plants and stormwater runoff.

           “We understand that public investments will be necessary to clean up the Great Bay estuary and keep it healthy now and for future generations, and we support prompt action to reduce water pollution in accordance with the full protections of the Clean Water Act, including the most stringent limits on nitrogen – the pollutant of greatest concern – from NH and Maine sewage treatment plants affecting the estuary.”

Sign The Petition Here

From Market Square Day in Portsmouth, to other events, it’s been great to engage concerned citizens with this petition, and to see how strongly people feel about protecting the estuary.  If you have not already signed, I urge you to do so by clicking here, where you’ll find an online version of the petition. Please also consider forwarding  the link below to your friends and neighbors and anyone else who cares about the future of this remarkable resource.

Let’s put an end to the sort of water quality problems I saw in the Winnicut River, before it’s too late. Together we can help ensure a cleaner and healthier future for the Great Bay estuary.

Sign The Petition Here

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