State of the Beach/State Reports/NH

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New Hampshire


New Hampshire has a good beach water quality monitoring and reporting program for their limited (3 month) swimming season. Beach access is fair to good, and a Coastal Public Access Map was recently published which is available online. Erosion information, policies regarding shoreline structures, and inventories of shoreline structures are difficult to find. Some threats to surfing areas exist from polluted water, difficult access and antiquated laws.

New Hampshire Ratings


(+)The New Hampshire Risk and Coastal Hazards Commission was established by bi-partisan legislation in 2013 to address coastal hazards in light of climate change. The commission released its final report and recommendations, titled Preparing New Hampshire for Projected Storm Sure, Sea-Level Rise, and Extreme Precipitation. The comprehensive report details sound recommendations and actions for state agencies, legislature, and municipalities to manage and prepare for coastal hazards.

(+) New Hampshire has a statewide standardized setback for all new coastal structures in the regulated coastal zone, which includes all of the state's coastal municipalities.

(+) In December 2014 Superior Court Marguerite Wageling ruled the public has a right to access the beach through Sanders Poynt property in Rye owned by Bill Binnie and the adjacent Wentworth by the Sea Country Club he owns because the public has accessed the beach that way for more than 20 years. In her ruling, Judge Wageling delayed defining how extensive the public access will be, while noting it "may extend not only to beach access, but to parking and boat-launching rights." The case was brought to the Superior Court by 24-year Rye resident Robert Jesurum, who said he's been using Sanders Poynt to access the beach since moving to Rye. Jesurum initially appealed a town building permit sought by Binnie and the club, who are referenced in the judge's order as the "Wentworth defendants." Jesurum objected to their permit for a fence, on the grounds that it blocks public access to the beach, while arguing the public has so-called prescriptive easement rights to the area by virtue of using that access to the beach for decades.

(+) New Hampshire's Environmental Dashboard evaluates trends in New Hampshire's environment to try to answer the questions "What's the state of New Hampshire's environment? Is it good? Is it bad? Getting better or worse?" As a way to answer these questions, a table provides a snapshot of trends for some key environmental issues important to the quality of life in New Hampshire. The "indicators" chosen have specific scientific data tracked over a period of time, which helps to show a trend in that topic area.

(+) In June 2014 the Northeast Regional Planning Body announced the release of easy-to-use decision support tool containing thousands of interactive maps on the Northeast Data Portal, including some of water quality data for the northeastern states from Connecticut to Maine. Based on water quality data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies, some maps display No Discharge Zones, impaired waters, and wastewater discharges. Also shown on the maps are boundaries of watersheds and subwatersheds in the region. To view the water quality maps, go here.

(+) In June 2014 New Hampshire launched its Coastal Atlas, which is a new tool to show information on shellfish bed closures, beach advisories, and coastal public access in an easy-to-use format.

(+) The Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) is a state and federal partnership that facilitates the New England states, federal agencies, regional organizations, and other interested regional groups in addressing ocean and coastal issues that benefit from a regional response. It is NROC’s mission to provide a voluntary forum for New England states and federal partners to coordinate and collaborate on regional approaches to support balanced uses and conservation of the Northeast region’s ocean and coastal resources. In New Hampshire, the Department of Environmental Services has a Regional Ocean Planning in New Hampshire website to provide information on this topic and facilitate public involvement.

(+) Effective July 1, 2008 under the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act Standards, a state shoreland permit is required for construction, excavation or filling activities not included in the exemptions detailed in the law, within 250 feet of the reference line. For coastal waters the reference line is the highest observable tide line.

(+) The New Hampshire Coastal Program has updated their Coastal Access Map. The updated map, which is accessible in pdf format on the NH Coastal Program website, includes coastal boat access points and hiking trails, fishing and wildlife viewing locations as well as points of interest like science and education centers.

(+) The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) monitors coastal waters to determine the suitability of beaches for swimming. The NHDES monitors water quality at 16 marine beaches and 164 inland freshwater beaches. There are at least two local agencies and one federal agency that also monitor beaches. The NHDES posts a sign at the beach to notify the public of advisories.

(+) New Hampshire's coastal waters were recently designated as a No Discharge Area. While boating in a No Discharge Area, marine sanitation devices must be secured to ensure overboard discharge is not occurring.

(+) In a 1997 survey by the University of New Hampshire, about 82 percent of respondents considered the protection or improvement of water quality in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds a “high” priority.

(0) New Hampshire expanded its NOAA-approved coastal zone management area by 700% and increased wetland and shoreland enforcement personnel in the coastal zone by 25%.

(-) Although there have been some private and/or regional studies done on climate change and sea level rise impacts in New Hampshire, the state department itself has not conducted a statewide sea level rise vulnerability assessment nor prepared a climate change adaptation plan.

(-) The state does not have any plans for managed retreat, relocation, buyouts, and/or retrofitting. Most other states have at least relocation and buyout policies in the event of repetitive coastal damage, so NH lags behind in this area.

(-) 12% of N.H.’s tidal shoreline is covered by hard structures, but when zooming in to the ocean facing coastline, seventy percent is hardened.

(-) A wastewater treatment plant on Peirce Island in Portsmouth is one of only 16 sewer plants nationwide that still operate under a "301(h) waiver" from the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act that stipulate all sewage to be treated by both primary and secondary levels of treatment. The Peirce Island plant discharges 4.8 million gallons of wastewater into the Piscataqua River each day, using only primary treatment (gravity separation of solids from liquid). In December 2014 the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released their 2012 Hydrographic Dye Study for the Peirce Island facility. The study injected dye into the facility’s Piscataqua River discharge and then tracked the dye over three days to determine where shellfish harvest safety zones must be established to protect the public from consuming tainted oysters and clams, in the event of a disinfectant failure at Peirce Island. The results of the study show a far-ranging reach of Pierce Island’s pollution — both in the form of bacteria and viruses. Regarding the latter, the Peirce Island facility’s outdated level of treatment results in extremely high levels of viruses which can end up in shellfish.

(-) Very little publicly-available information exists regarding shoreline coastal erosion data.

(-) Budget cuts at the federal level for 2005 decreased funding for Nonpoint Source Pollution implementation grants.


  • Northeast Regional Ocean Planning We are pleased to announce that on December 7, 2016, the National Ocean Council certified the Northeast Regional Ocean Plan, launching us headlong into a more sustainable future and a paradigm shift in ocean management that looks at the ocean holistically as a system, rather than managing piecemeal by agency, spatial boundary, specific use, threat or species. Learn more by reading (and sharing!) our Coastal Blog. Now that the ocean plan is final, the Surfrider Foundation will engage in the vital work of implementation. Our staff and volunteers will continue to participate in ocean planning meetings to improve the iterative plan so that it best represents our goals in protecting the ocean and coastal ecosystems, and recreational areas. We'll be calling upon our ocean industry leader friends - surf shop owners, kayak tour guides, beachside pub and restaurant owners, SUP racers and the like - to help us engage locally as federal and state agencies begin to fully utilize the best practices established in the plan, and integrate the inherent expertise of our coastal communities and ocean users into decision-making processes that will inform the future of the sea.
  • New England’s Canyons and Seamounts Protected! Surfrider chapters in the Gulf of Maine supported the Obama Administration in its consideration of creating the first ever Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean to permanently protect three canyons and four seamounts. Designation would help protect these special areas from threats like overfishing and mining while maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem as well as superb recreational opportunities for low impact enjoyments. New England's Gulf of Maine is home to AMAZING underwater treasurers, including deep sea canyons, which plunge to depths greater than 7,000 feet (1,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon!) and astounding seamounts (which rise higher from the seafloor than any mountain east of the Rockies!), creating unique habitats that support tremendous biodiversity and fragile ecosystems. The Surfrider Foundation supported a coalition of environmental nonprofits who championed this effort to additionally call upon the Administration to provide permanent protection for this area. Read more.
  • Jenness Beach Parking Victory Articles 18 and 19 would have made certain areas around Jenness Beach Precinct permit-parking only, making them inaccessible for non-residents wanting to go to the beach at the north end of Jenness Beach. Resident (and surfer) and SF representative, Steve Hillman, spoke out against them citing public access/Public Trust Doctrine issues and stated that Surfrider Foundation would be backing efforts to oppose the articles. On March 13, 2012 Rye residents voted against Article 18 by a count of 712 to 627 and against Article 19 by 766 to 581. Learn more about this victory at Surfrider's Victory Page.
  • Rec Use Characterization Proposal The Surfrider Foundation Northeast Region is heavily engaged in Regional Ocean Planning efforts. Our goal is to be proactive in protecting coastal and ocean ecosystems and recreational areas, before they're threatened. Along with strong partner organizations, SeaPlan and Point 97, Surfrider Foundation submitted a project proposal for the Northeast Regional Planning Body's RFP, to develop products characterizing spatial patterns of coastal and marine recreational activity in New England. Our proposal was selected, and we will be leading the way for everyday ocean recreation users - like surfers, beach strollers, wildlife watchers, kayakers and divers - to fill a data gap in the Northeast that will assist ocean planners in considering recreational areas as they plan to organize for current and future uses of the sea. Contact our Northeast Regional Coordinator for more information:
  • Rye Residents Amend Beach Permit article Article 15 on the town warrant proposes amending the beach ordinance to restrict certain activities on the beach without prior permission from the Board of Selectmen. Activities that would require selectmen's approval include summer camps, surf camps, and lessons or rentals for activities such as surfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, sailing, kite-surfing, snorkeling or diving. Ryan McGill and his brother Tyler McGill, owners of Summer Sessions Surf Shop, came before selectmen asking for the article to be amended and it was approved unanimously after a half-hour of discussion by residents, including members of Surfrider's New Hampshire chapter. The amendment states that “the town shall authorize the Beach Commission and selectmen, or a committee thereof, to study the impact of the operation by person, business or nonprofit group or organization or event.” This phrase will be added at the beginning of the article. At the end of the article will be added that “the purpose of such a study shall be to determine the impact of such businesses or events on public safety and the public's use and enjoyment of the beach.” Read more.
  • New Hampshire Beach Monitoring Program Extended into Fall & Spring The New Hampshire beach monitoring program has been extended beyond the typical summer season. This important victory can be attributed to the energy and motivation of the New Hampshire Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
  • Surfing Regulations Amended With support from local Surfrider members as well as concerned citizens, the Town of Rye recently passed a Bylaw regulating surfing in a reasonable manner. The Town had been considering a total ban and local surfers were pleased that this ban did not succeed.

To see all of Surfrider Foundation's coastal victories and campaigns, go here.

State of the Beach Report: New Hampshire
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