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Great Bay Successes

In recent years, CLF has made significant progress in tackling threats to the Great Bay Estuary, including the nitrogen and stormwater pollution that is threatening water quality and habitat health. These successes include:

  • Requiring much-needed upgrades to Portsmouth’s Peirce Island sewage treatment plant.
    In 1985, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Portsmouth a waiver from the Clean Water Act’s secondary-treatment requirements, allowing its 4.5 million-gallon-per-day sewage treatment plant to operate with only the most basic level of treatment (so-called “primary treatment” that involves the settling of solids from the waste stream, and chlorination). Despite the fact that the permit expired in 1990, EPA nonetheless allowed the facility to continue operating under its permit for more than 15 years. In 2005, EPA issued a tentative decision again allowing the Peirce Island facility to escape the Clean Water Act’s secondary-treatment requirement – despite documented pollution problems in the receiving water, the Piscataqua River. As a direct result of CLF’s advocacy, EPA reversed its position and issued a final permit requiring the Peirce Island facility finally to be upgraded to reduce pollution. The City of Portsmouth is in the process of evaluating which secondary-treatment technology to deploy.
  • Working with the UNH Stormwater Center to implement innovative stormwater solutions.
    When Packard Development proposed a massive retail center on the banks of Pickering Brook in Greenland, CLF raised significant concerns with the stormwater pollution that would result from the project, and the impacts on the brook and – a short distance downstream – Great Bay. In response, Packard Development agreed to work with CLF and the UNH Stormwater Center to re-design the project to incorporate innovative stormwater solutions. As a result, a significant portion of the project was built with innovative “porous pavement” and a subsurface retention and treatment system, as well as a large “gravel wetland” to reduce nitrogen and other pollutants from the stormwater. The project serves as an example of the sort of innovative stormwater pollution controls that will be necessary to protect the Great Bay estuary and other water bodies.
  • Securing greater protections for the Great Bay estuary under the Clean Water Act.
    Despite a growing body of science showing declines in the health of Great Bay as a result of nitrogen pollution, regulators had failed to designate the estuary as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act (and thereby subject to enhanced regulatory protection). As a direct result of CLF’s advocacy, in 2009 the State of New Hampshire and EPA listed much of the estuary as impaired as a result of excessive nitrogen pollution (pdf), and nearly the entire estuary as impaired as a result of eelgrass loss (pdf).
  • New permitting processes to reduce nitrogen pollution from sewage treatment plants.
    Of the 14 sewage treatment plants in the Great Bay estuary, not a single one has limits to control nitrogen pollution. As a direct result of CLF’s advocacy – both in the context of re-permitting for Exeter’s sewage treatment plant and in designating Great Bay’s waters as impaired – EPA is in the process of issuing new Clean Water Act permits with much-needed nitrogen pollution limits. Reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants will be essential for putting the Great Bay estuary on a path to recovery.
  • Ending illegal, toxic stormwater discharges from the Market Street Terminal.
    For years, the massive scrap metal facility operated by Grimmel Industries in Portsmouth has discharged heavily contaminated stormwater into the Piscataqua River. As a result of CLF’s efforts, EPA is taking long overdue action under the Clean Water Act to end this pollution. The facility has been ordered to reconfigure its operations and install stormwater controls to end its discharges of PCBs and mercury into the Piscataqua River.