Local Engagement, Local Waters

Jeff Barnum

As Great Bay–Piscataqua Waterkeeper, I consider local public engagement to be key to restoring the health of the Great Bay estuary, and it’s a major part of my work. But even for those already aware of the value of our local waters and the challenges of achieving clean water, getting engaged often is not easy. People have less and less time, it seems.

But throughout the Seacoast, something is happening – residents concerned about their local waters (waters in their backyard, so to speak) are becoming active and tackling important issues. It’s a great thing to see, and it bodes well for the future of our Great Bay estuary and all the rivers, streams, and bays that are part of it.

In Exeter, for example, Exeter Citizens for Responsible Growth became concerned (as did I) about a local ballot question attempting to reduce the size of wetland buffers in order to fast-track development. Having won that battle in the voting booth, the group turned its attention to fertilizer use town-wide and is moving that initiative forward, since what happens in the Squamscott River sub-watershed impacts water quality in Great Bay. I’m very pleased to be working with this group – offering help and ideas.

In Dover, a significant number of residents living on the Bellamy River have become concerned with a number of local issues, including water quality in the Bellamy and in the portion of the Great Bay estuary right in front of their homes. They’ve organized themselves into the Lower Bellamy River Collaborative, and speakers – including me – have provided information on fertilizer use, current water quality impairments, oyster restoration, and more. These folks want change and are willing to spend time to make that happen. I’m confident that they’ll identify the sources of bacterial infections in that part of the Bellamy, and I look forward to working with them.

The Winnicut River Watershed Coalition, with support from the NH Rivers Council and the NH Department of Environmental Services, has convinced all the towns in this sub-watershed of Great Bay, as well as groups already working there like Great Bay Trout Unlimited, that applying for funds to support a watershed management plan is the optimum way to identify the pollution hotspots driving poor water quality and bacterial impairments. The whole effort was initially driven by the energy of just one person – but now there are many players at the table. As Waterkeeper, I’m pleased to be one of them.

Each of these efforts has success written all over them. Why? Because they’re bubbling up from within communities, engaging people in issues close to home. Folks are getting energized to tackle the challenges facing their local waters. And as that happens more and more, that’s a great thing for the estuary.

If you live on the Seacoast (or even if you don’t) and you want to get involved, please get in touch with me at jbarnum@clf.org. We’re always looking for folks to join our Clean Water Advocates for Great Bay group. And if you want to get involved in one of the local efforts described above, I’d be happy to help connect you with the people leading those efforts. No matter how you choose to help, your voice matters and will be heard.

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