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April 02. 2014 10:51PM

Manchester mayor backs restrictions on horses near drinking water

MANCHESTER — Mayor Ted Gatsas said he will rely heavily on Manchester Water Works officials as they devise restrictions on horseback riding near the region's supply of drinking water.

Gatsas, a member of the Board of Water Commissioners, spoke as the New Hampshire horse community considers its options about expected restrictions of horses on the vast Water Works holdings in the Lake Massabesic watershed.

Massabesic supplies drinking water to 160,000 homes and businesses in the Greater Manchester area.

"It's imperative we keep that water supply as pure as we can. ... That is our drinking water," said Gatsas, a former racehorse owner who said he still has one retired, 19-year-old horse.

Meanwhile, a lawyer of equine law and past president of the New Hampshire Horse Council, said Water Works could destroy equestrian recreation in the state.

"The legal landslide that would come from them declaring manure as hazardous to humans is just massive," said Patricia Morris of Center Barnstead. She said Water Works has not provided scientific studies to show that horse manure is hazardous to human health, and some studies have found no pathogens in horse manure.

Morris said she understands that someone who doesn't know horses would suspect manure could be dangerous to human health. But horses are different from many other mammals, she said.

"They eat grain, they eat hay, they eat apples and drink water. That's all they do," said Morris, who is also a member of the New Hampshire Equine Trails Coalition.

But Water Works' top official said manure would have a negative effect on the quality and safety of Massabesic's water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said that droppings of warm-blooded animals contain bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal problems, Water Works Director David Paris said.

"We're not going to repeat the science analyzing horse manure that's been handed to us from the EPA," he said.

He said the science is also pretty clear on manure's effect on nutrient loading. When phosphorous and nitrogen in animal waste get into water bodies, it can lead to algae blooms. Blue-green algae blooms have been associated with serious diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease, but scientists have not proved a direct link, according to material supplied by Paris.

Morris said a legal challenge against Water Works is possible.

She plans to file a right-to-know request with the agency to see if state money was used to develop trails on the land.

But Morris said setbacks from water bodies could be a possibility, and she would be willing to discuss areas where horses could be allowed on Water Works land. She noted that state parks officials recently backed away from horse restrictions but adopted rules that require riders to spread horse droppings when possible.

Gatsas said he has agreed to meet with the horse owners next week, but he will tell them that water has to stay clean and he relies on Water Works officials for their advice.

Paris said the Water Commission's Rules and Regulations Committee will meet soon to work on changes to Water Works regulations.

If the committee makes a recommendation, it could go to the full commission on April 24.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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