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EPA Draft Permit Will Significantly Reduce Nitrogen Discharges, Improve Health of Great Bay

01/07/2020
Contact Information: 
John Senn (senn.john@epa.gov)
617-918-1019

CONCORD, N.H. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it has issued a draft Clean Water Act permit for public comment. If finalized as proposed, EPA believes this draft permit could result in significant decreases in nitrogen discharges to New Hampshire's Great Bay estuary, improving water quality and the health of ecosystems throughout the estuary. Under the terms of the draft permit, which EPA developed in close coordination with the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), 13 wastewater treatment plants in 12 New Hampshire communities would take steps to reduce nitrogen discharges to Great Bay.

"This draft permit is another step toward a cleaner, healthier Great Bay and reflects many years of hard work among federal, state and local governments to address a critical environmental problem," said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. "We look forward to receiving the public's input. We expect the end result to be a permit that achieves important reductions of nitrogen in Great Bay in a cost-effective way, which is good news for New Hampshire communities and their ratepayer customers."

"These draft rules allow for greater flexibility for our local municipalities," said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. "After years of careful, collaborative and comprehensive work with municipalities, the EPA, and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, we have reached a critical point in protecting the Great Bay. This adaptive approach will result in nitrogen reductions in the best possible economic, environmental and effective way."

Bob Scott, Commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services noted, "For many years, NHDES has been asking EPA to provide a flexible approach to nutrient management in the Great Bay watershed. This general permit is a unique solution that will allow for the communities around the estuary to link their management actions to additional science as it develops."

The 12 communities that would be covered by the general permit are: Portsmouth (two facilities), Newington, Durham, Newmarket, Epping, Exeter, Newfields, Dover, Rochester, Rollinsford, Somersworth, and Milton. The draft permit, issued under the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), is open for a 60-day public comment period and persons or entities interested in commenting on the permit can do so by following the instructions in the Federal Register at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/07/2019-28510/notice-of-availability-of-draft-npdes-great-bay-total-nitrogen-general-permit-for-wastewater.

The Great Bay estuary, an estuary of national significance under EPA's National Estuary Program and a critical resource in New Hampshire, has for years experienced water quality problems such as low dissolved oxygen, algae blooms, and declining eelgrass habitat, all results of excessive nitrogen discharges. EPA and NHDES have been working for years with Great Bay communities to reduce nitrogen from both point sources like wastewater treatment plants and stormwater pipes, and nonpoint sources like runoff from farms and lawns, septic systems, and atmospheric deposition. Many communities have upgraded or optimized their wastewater treatment systems, and some are working to reduce stormwater discharges.

The communities asked EPA and NHDES for the flexibility to focus on reducing nitrogen from nonpoint sources, rather than additional treatment at municipal wastewater treatment plants. EPA and NHDES have responded to that request, and the draft general permit largely accommodates the communities' preference to achieve the necessary nitrogen reductions through investments in nonpoint source controls. The draft permit also includes limits on the discharge of nitrogen from municipal wastewater plants that almost all communities are expected to meet through optimization of existing facilities.

For more information on NPDES permits, go to: https://www.epa.gov/npdes

For more information about EPA's work in New Hampshire, go to: https://www.epa.gov/nh/environmental-information-new-hampshire