Great Bay

Min Lee via Flickr CC

New Hampshire health, environment and wildlife officials are holding a public meeting on shellfish rules for 2015.

The information session set for Tuesday night in Portsmouth will be an opportunity for the public to hear about a dye tracking study that traced effluent flows from the Pierce Island wastewater treatment facility to Little Harbor and areas of Portsmouth Harbor out to Odiorne Point. Officials say that study indicates that shellfish harvesting in those areas need to be closed.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

  At 4:30 in the morning, a worker unloading number six oil from a barge at the Sprague River Terminal in Newington, smells fumes. He finds a leaking pipeline, and radios to stop the pumping, but already there are an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil in the river.

It sounds scary, but as the crackling voices over the radio in the boat supervising the cleanup make clear, there’s nothing to fear. Before every transmission, they declare, “This is a drill, this is a drill.”

Pembleton / Flickr CC

Data released Friday shows that a crucial piece of the ecosystem of the Great Bay estuary continued a seventeen-year downward trend.

Eel-grass is a big deal to the Great Bay. According to Rachel Rouillard, the executive director of the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), “eelgrass is like our canary in the coal-mine, it’s a fundamental underpinning of the health and vitality of the whole system.”

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

There are many challenges to a good town-gown relationship in college towns, but here’s one that doesn’t get a great deal of press: urine overloads.

On certain nights of the week, partying UNH students in Durham can overwhelm the town’s wastewater treatment plant, but a group of UNH students have teamed up with the town to get some of that nitrogen-rich urine out of the water. They plan to take that pee, and put it somewhere that it could do good.

Flikr Creative Commons / Rickpilot_2000

There is a hint of light at the end of a two-year-long legal battle over waste-water treatment plant upgrades on the Great Bay.

The towns of Portsmouth, Rochester and Dover have been arguing that regulators with the Department of Environmental Services and the EPA hadn’t proved that requiring millions of dollars of state-of-the-art wastewater plants would substantially improve water quality. But after a panel of independent scientists issued a sharp critique of the science used by the DES, a deal could be on the horizon.

Cheryl Senter

The Great Bay Stewards work to preserve and protect the Great Bay estuary through education, land protection and research. Sharon Musselman, one of the educators, is recently a retired teacher who often brought her own classes here to explore this ecosystem.

"I'm excited to be here at Great Bay Discover center," Musselman said. "I brought my first grade class to Great Bay for 15 years because it is such a great experience for first graders."

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Meanwhile, many of the stresses that threaten water quality – more waste-water, increased runoff from pavement, and fewer forests to naturally filter water – increase hand-in-hand with development. Those in the conservation community say the cheapest route is to keep water clean by putting land into conservation, instead of trying to clean it up after it’s already a mess. No-where is the tension between environmental quality and more acute, than on the seacoast, in the communities of the Great Bay.

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Several   seacoast communities have been ordered to upgrade their waste-water treatment plants by the EPA.But towns are pushing back on the question of how much the plants need to improve.

Durham is in that boat. The town is trying a new approach to pollution control called adaptive management. And depending on how things go for Durham, this could be the way the way towns and the EPA will resolve difficult and expensive water problems going forward.

The Nitrogen Numbers

Cheryl Senter

The Great Bay Stewards work to preserve and protect the Great Bay estuary through education, land protection and research. Sharon Musselman, one of the educators, is recently a retired teacher who often brought her own classes here to explore this ecosystem.

"I'm excited to be here at Great Bay Discover center," Musselman said. "I brought my first grade class to Great Bay for 15 years because it is such a great experience for first graders."

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

On the dock of Great Bay Marine, there’s what looks like a little raft tied up, but get close and you hear the hum of a water pump. This is where Fat Dog Oyster Company is based.

Reporter Sam Evans-Brown recently spent a day with Jay Baker and Alex Boeri of Fat Dog for his story on the boom in oystering in N.H.'s Great Bay Estuary. You can check out more of his photos and sound in this 2-minute video:

Sam Evans-Brown / NHPR

Oyster farming in the Great Bay Estuary is in the midst of a little bit of a boom. In recent years, the number of oyster farms has leapt from 1 to 8, with more on the way. These gains are boosting the hopes that using these filter feeders as an “outside-the-pipes” way to clean up the waters of the Great Bay could become a reality.

Flikr Creative Commons / GrahamKing

Come January, New Hampshire lawmakers will consider a bevy of bills dealing with the water quality of Great Bay. Some proposals confront waste-water treatment plant costs head-on, while others skirt that controversy.

The decline in the ecosystem of the Great Bay, coupled with Portsmouth, Rochester, and Dover's decision to fight the EPA over required wastewater treatment plant to upgrades is inspiring action in Concord.

Flikr Creative Commons / Rickpilot_2000

A new report out Friday finds that the Great Bay Estuary is still struggling. Every 3 years the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, or PREP releases its State Of Our Estuaries report. The report’s data plays into an ongoing battle over the cost of new wastewater treatment plants on the seacoast.

If you’ve been following the efforts of conservation groups on the Seacoast, PREP’s data from the last three years are no big surprise.

Amy Quinton / NHPR

Top municipal officials of three Seacoast region communities are continuing their fight against tough new environmental regulations for their wastewater treatment plants.

The Future of Great Bay

Jul 23, 2012
Conservation Law Foundation

Often called New Hampshire’s “hidden coast, the Great Bay is considered an estuary of national significance. Yet, its future seems in question both because pollution has taken a toll on its ecosystem and because nearby communities, activists, and officials can’t agree on how best to eradicate it, even as all realize something must be done. We'll look at the Great Bay debate and see if some sort of compromise can be made?

Guests

Sam Evans-Brown

 

The Nature Conservancy and the University of New Hampshire are working to restore oyster beds in the Great Bay. The organization hopes its efforts can help stave off an ecosystem collapse while towns in the watershed work toward upgrading their wastewater plants. 

Sam Evans-Brown

 

Representatives of five New Hampshire towns say the Environmental Protection Agency is imposing wastewater limits on the Great Bay that are a financial burden. They made their case to two members of the Congressional Committee on Oversight at a field hearing held in Exeter Monday. While towns and regulators haggle over the cost of improving waste water treatment, time may be running out for the Great Bay estuary.

A Contentious Issue

Flikr Creative Commons / gdahlman

 

The Conservation Law Foundation has asked to help defend the Department of Environmental Services in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of Great Bay area communities.

The suit is an attempt to block rules that would require the towns to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants.

The CLF’s Director, Tom Irwin, says the suit is a stalling tactic, aimed to delay measures needed to help the Great Bay recover its health.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

A coalition of Great Bay area communities is suing the state and the Department of Environmental Services, claiming DES failed to follow proper rules when determining water quality standards in the Great Bay.

Dover, Portsmouth, Rochester, Exeter and Newmarket claim DES violated state and federal law by not conducting a formal public process when determining water quality standards in the Great Bay.

As a result, the communities say they face unnecessary multi-million dollar wastewater treatment upgrades.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

This week NHPR’s Amy Quinton has been taking an in-depth look at the New Hampshire’s Great Bay.

The estuary is one of the state’s natural treasures.

But it’s in trouble.

Yesterday, Amy told us about the role wastewater treatment plants have played in polluting the bay and how they now face tougher clean water standards.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

This week, NHPR’s Amy Quinton has been taking a look at some of the challenges facing the Great Bay estuary.

Earlier she reported on how pollution is killing the bay’s eelgrass, a source of food and habitat for wildlife.

But the Bay also has lost most of its oysters, which help filter the water.
Pollution, disease, and overharvesting have all played a part.

Can We Fix the Great Bay Estuary?

Aug 19, 2010
Amy Quinton, NHPR

All this week, NHPR’s Amy Quinton has reported on some of the challenges facing the Great Bay.

Pollution is threatening the health of the estuary, but officials are discussing ways to prevent further deterioration.

In the last part of her series, environment reporter Amy Quinton takes a look at possible solutions.

 

(nat sound..squawking)

It’s quiet here on the Great Bay .

At mid-morning on this clear day, the water is almost as blue as the sky.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

This week NHPR’s Amy Quinton has been taking an in-depth look at the New Hampshire’s Great Bay.

The estuary is one of the state’s natural treasures.

But it’s in trouble.

Yesterday, Amy told us about the role wastewater treatment plants have played in polluting the bay and how they now face tougher clean water standards.

Amy Quinton, NHPR

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated New Hampshire’s Great Bay as officially impaired.

That means the 14 New Hampshire wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the estuary face tougher clean water standards.

And that could cost ratepayers millions.

In the second part of her series on the challenges facing the Great Bay, NHPR’s environment reporter Amy Quinton reports.

Great Bay Estuary Faces Pollution Threats

Aug 16, 2010

At 18 miles long, the New Hampshire coastline is the shortest in the country.

But if you include the Great Bay, the state’s meager coast grows by about 144 miles of tidal shoreline.

The rare inland estuary, where salt water meets fresh, spans more than 13,000 acres.

And nearly a quarter of the state’s population lives within its watershed.