Lawns To Lobsters – Fewer Chemicals, Cleaner Water

Peter Wellenberger

Stormwater continues to be a major source of pollution to the Great Bay estuary. When it rains, runoff carries a wide range of pollutants – from dog waste and lawn fertilizers, to gasoline and oil, to heavy metals, nutrients and sediments – that flow into our waters with little or no treatment.

To combat this pollution, the UNH Stormwater Center and other local groups are working with Seacoast communities to implement projects at a neighborhood level to reduce the flow of untreated stormwater reaching the estuary. While many of these projects are small in scope, they demonstrate the value of dealing with stormwater close to home. One of the most interesting approaches is based on a program that was developed in Maine.

In 2009, the Kennebunkport Conservation Commission, in partnership with the University of New England, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association and others, developed the Lawns for Lobsters program. The program’s goal is to educate homeowners on steps they can take to ensure a healthy lawn with minimal impact on the environment. The program was also recently renamed Lawns to Lobsters, giving greater emphasis on the flow of water from our lawns to the ocean.

Other communities are now adopting the program, including one in New Hampshire. New Castle, the only town in the state composed entirely of islands, covers approximately 500 acres and sits at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. With a residential population of slightly more than 1,000, the town’s Conservation Commission is committed to reducing the impacts from non-point sources of pollution and launched the Lawns to Lobsters program last summer.

Residents who want to participate in the program take a pledge to use sound stewardship principles in managing their own property. This includes testing the soil before using a fertilizer, applying the correct amount, and not applying fertilizer if rain is predicted in the next 48 hours. Other measures include keeping the grass at least three inches in length (tall grass needs less water), planting clover as a fertilizer substitute, properly disposing of dog waste, and using herbicides and insecticides sparingly. Homeowners also are asked to consider replacing all or part of their lawn with native plants.

Long term, the town wants to encourage citizens to install rain gardens and vegetative buffers as a way to prevent polluted runoff. In a compact community such as New Castle, all of these steps can add up and help to protect our waterways. You can read more about the New Castle Conservation Commission’s efforts to protect the Great Bay estuary here.

In partnership with the Great Bay Stewards and the NH Department of Environmental Services, we plan to launch a similar program for homeowners next spring. The program will be based on the Department’s Homeowner’s Guide to Stormwater Management. Stay tuned for more information!  In the meantime, there are lots of resources available to homeowners on how to install a rain garden. The University of NH Cooperative Extension Services offer an excellent guide called Landscaping at the Water’s Edge.

As Waterkeeper, I find it encouraging that New Castle is addressing the serious issue of stormwater pollution. We all need to work together to solve the problem. By becoming responsible homeowners, New Castle residents are taking an important first step.

For more information about the Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper and my work to protect the Great Bay estuary, visit: You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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