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December 16. 2012 8:28PM

NH looks at managing water quality, quantity issues

CONCORD - Water quality and quantity in the coming years are the subject of a report to be released to the governor today.

John Gilbert, chairman of the New Hampshire Water Sustainability Commission, said the report seeks primarily to educate the public on the issue that relates to public and natural health.

In April 2011 Gov. John Lynch issued an executive order to develop recommendations on a framework for ensuring water quality and quantity. The commission's task was to ensure it is at least as good or better in 25 years.

Virginia Battles-Raffa, who represents the Lakes Region and North Country on the commission, said the report paints a picture of where we are and where we want to be in the future.

"Education is the No. 1 finding. People don't know where their water comes from," she said.

The report is available for view at nh.gov/watersustainability.

Lynch has recognized water as a fundamental advantage for the state, Gilbert said.

"Its clarity and quantity is a driver of this state being a place to visit, live, bring a business." Additionally, "It is the underpinning of tourism, recreation, boating, fishing, as well as drinking and a potential for attracting business here because of the quality of life," Gilbert said.

"On the surface, in general, things are pretty good," Gilbert said the assessment found. "But pressures are building ... everybody in the state is a beneficiary of water systems. Everybody in this state has to engage."

Core observations of the commission are:

1. There is a lot of pressure on water with about 1.3 million people and a river and aquifer system that goes up and down with rainfall amounts.

2. New Hampshire needs to plan for a huge demographic shift. The "silver tsunami" of retiring baby-boomers who want to be near the lakes is coming or already here and moving in full-time. It will increase human impact and run-off potential and add to the withdrawal issues. There are different solutions for different parts, of the state, it notes.

3. The state's water-carrying infrastructure is in decline. With $2.9 billion estimated for repair to water systems, most built in the early 1900s and after the Clean Water Act in 1972, the pipes are old.

Changing weather adds into the problem. An increase in abnormal weather is putting added stress on infrastructure and quality of water, damaging culverts to small to handle the volume. Droughts are possible, as are floods. Infrastructure needs to accommodate that, the report said.

Battles-Raffa noted that the state does not manage by the watershed, with five major watersheds in the state, and a regional planning commission could play a role in broadening the scope between political boundaries from community to community that share the same water source.

The report also deals with the need to reduce water pollution and the importance of natural barriers along the shoreline to retain the chemicals from entering the water body.

ptracy@unionleader.com


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