Why the Great Bay Municipalities’ Lawsuit is Bad for Great Bay

Peter Wellenberger

Just a few weeks ago, a group of municipalities calling themselves the Great Bay Municipal Coalition – Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, Rochester and Newmarket – took the unfortunate step of filing a lawsuit against the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, challenging its analysis of nitrogen pollution in the estuary. Despite the need for prompt action to protect the Great Bay estuary from pollution, the municipalities have chosen to attack NHDES’s nitrogen analysis on procedural grounds, claiming NHDES should have engaged in formal rule-making.

The declining health of the Great Bay estuary – and the effects of nitrogen pollution – is well documented. According to the most recent State of Estuaries report, nitrogen concentrations in Great Bay have increased to unsustainable levels. And the loss of eelgrass – the cornerstone of the ecosystem that provides essential habitat for juvenile fish (and is therefore a critical piece of the food web) — has been particularly dramatic, with some areas now completely devoid of this critical habitat.

Fortunately, some communities aren’t following in the path of these municipalities. Newington, for example, has been a strong supporter of recent regulatory efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment plants. And Durham made the specific decision not to litigate against NHDES, and to instead work collaboratively with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) while at the same time exploring ways to reduce stormwater pollution.

Great Bay is approaching a tipping point and the recent lawsuit by the Municipal Coalition does nothing more than delay implementation of the necessary actions that are needed to prevent a collapse of the estuary. The waters of Great Bay belong to all of us.  It’s time for every community along its shores and within its watershed to start investing in real solutions and stop angling for delay.


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