State of the Beach/State Reports/NH/Water Quality

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New Hampshire Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access86
Water Quality89
Beach Erosion3-
Erosion Response-5
Beach Fill2-
Shoreline Structures8 3
Beach Ecology3-
Surfing Areas35
Coastal Development{{{19}}}{{{20}}}
Sea Level Rise{{{21}}}{{{22}}}

Water Quality Monitoring Program

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) signed into law on October 10, 2000, amends the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), incorporating provisions intended to reduce the risk of illness to users of the Nation's recreational waters. The BEACH Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to award program development and implementation grants to eligible States, Territories, Tribes, and local governments to support microbiological testing and monitoring of coastal recreation waters, including the Great Lakes, that are adjacent to beaches or similar points of access used by the public. BEACH Act grants also provide support for development and implementation of programs to notify the public of the potential exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in coastal recreation waters. EPA encourages coastal States and Territories to apply for BEACH Act Grants for Program Implementation (referred to as Implementation Grants) to implement effective and comprehensive coastal recreation water monitoring and public notification programs. CWA section 406(i) authorizes appropriations of up to $30 million per year to develop and implement beach programs. Unfortunately, only about one-third that amount has been authorized each year since the program's inception. In recent years, the total funding available for BEACH Act grants has been about $9.5 million. Funding beyond 2012 has been in jeopardy, since EPA's budget requests for this program in FY2013 and FY2014 were ZERO (money for testing in 2013 and 2014 was ultimately allocated as part of Continuing Resolutions to resolve the Federal Budget impasse) and there was also no money for beach testing in the FY2015 budget. Again, it was restored at the last minute as part of a Continuing Resolution. It is very discouraging to have to fight for this basic funding to protect the public's health at the beach every year. Thankfully, there is a growing movement to provide stable funding. Unfortunately, in 2017 the situation is even more dire. If available, funds are allocated to the states and territories based on a formula which uses three factors that are readily available and verifiable: (1) Length of beach season, (2) miles of beach and (3) number of people that use the beaches. New Hampshire was eligible for a $196,000 grant in fiscal year 2016. Approximately $20,000 per year is allocated from state funds for accounting, supervisory, and additional beach work performed by state employees not directly paid by the federal BEACH Act funds.

Portions of the following discussion are taken from NRDC's report Testing the Waters, A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, June 20134. NRDC's report evaluates beach monitoring data relative to EPA's recommended Beach Action Value (BAV). The BAV is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions."

NRDC ranked New Hampshire 2nd in Beachwater Quality (out of 30 states). 3% of samples exceeded EPA's new BAV standards for designated beach areas in 2013.

New Hampshire has 17 public coastal and estuarine beaches along 18 miles of Atlantic coastline. The state's beachwater quality monitoring program is administered by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES). DES collects water samples at public beaches during the swimming season and tests these samples for fecal bacteria to ensure protection of the public’s health. In addition, samples of blue-green scums at freshwater beaches and lakes are examined for potentially toxin-producing cyanobacteria, previously called blue-green algae. When test results are above state standards, DES issues an advisory until test results come back clean. Although not required, beach owners may choose to close the beach until an advisory is lifted. Beachgoers can learn about beach advisories through the DES website.

In 2011, FB Environmental Associates, Inc., in cooperation with the town of Rye and DES, completed a coastal bacteria source identification project for the Little River watershed (which affects water quality at North Hampton State Beach) and for the Parsons Creek watershed (which affects water quality at Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Road). For these projects, the amount of fecal indicator bacteria entering each watershed in runoff from developed areas was estimated by combining information about the bacterial counts in runoff with the amount of runoff. Bacteria from septic systems was determined by estimating the number of people served by failing systems and multiplying that number by the expected bacterial load per person. Previous microbial source tracking studies and other wildlife research data were used to identify the dominant species of wildlife that contribute fecal indicator bacteria to the watersheds, and these indicator bacteria quantities were calculated by multiplying estimates of the animal population by bacterial load per animal. Bacteria contributed by farm animals was estimated based on the number of each type of animal; the bacterial loading rate for each type of animal, the amount of time the animals spend in barnyards, pastures, and streams; manure removal practices; and stormwater runoff rates.

The studies found that runoff from developed areas is the largest source of bacterial loading in the Little River watershed, with failing septic systems and wildlife making significant contributions. There was little contribution from farm animals. Runoff from developed areas and failing septic systems were the largest contributors of fecal indicator bacteria in the Parsons Creek watershed, with wildlife and farm animals contributing less significantly. The watershed-based plans for reducing fecal contamination call for action to reduce leaks from septic tanks and to discourage wildlife from congregating near surface waters. The plans also call for green infrastructure techniques to reduce bacterial loading in runoff from developed areas, including the installation of buffers, rain gardens, and constructed wetlands. Other techniques to reduce bacterial loading in runoff from developed areas include plans to better manage pet waste, to remove portable toilets from streamside locations, and to ensure that public toilets in sensitive areas are functioning properly. The town of North Hampton has received funding to reduce the bacterial load to North Hampton State Beach from the Little River, including funds for more intensified source tracking efforts.

In 2012, New Hampshire awarded the towns of North Hampton and Rye funding to implement further work on these Water Quality Management Plans. A variety of projects have been suggested to improve the water quality of both watersheds. Both North Hampton and Rye will develop a comprehensive education and outreach strategy to ensure that community members understand proper maintenance of their septic systems and the effects of malfunctioning systems on water quality. North Hampton and Rye will also institute an Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination program that will identify malfunctioning septic systems, create enforcement protocols for identified malfunctioning systems, create universal record-keeping methods, strengthen municipal ordinances to better protect surface waters from bacterial pollution, develop programs to finance septic system upgrades or replacements, and evaluate alternatives to individual septic systems. Both towns will also create programs to reduce the amount of bacteria in developed-area runoff and the impacts of stormwater pipes on surface waters. Additionally, North Hampton will develop wildlife repellent and habitat-restriction programs to reduce wildlife contributions to the beach bacteria load.


Sampling Practices

The monitoring season in New Hampshire runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The DES determines sampling and notification practices, locations, standards, and protocols at all of its public coastal beaches. Samples are taken in knee-deep water. Sampling frequencies are based on beachwater quality history, the presence of suspected sources of microbial pathogens, and degree of beach use. The number of samples collected at each beach is determined by beach length, with two samples taken at beaches less than 100 feet in length and more samples taken at longer beaches.

When an elevated bacteria result is found, a follow-up sample is taken within 24 hours. Beach advisories remain in effect until subsequent beach sampling reflects results below the state standard. Samples may also be collected at known and suspected discharge sources at New Hampshire's beaches, and extra wet-weather sampling may be conducted at beaches when stormwater runoff has the potential to impact water quality. States that monitor more frequently after an exceedance is found or after rainfall events will tend to have higher percent exceedance rates and lower total closing/advisory days than they would if their sampling frequency did not increase after an exceedance was found.


Standards and Procedures

When tests reveal bacteria levels that violate health standards, DES issues advisories through its website and Twitter feed and by posting signs at the beach. State policy is to issue advisories and not closings at beaches, but towns can close beaches within their jurisdiction. New Hampshire applies an enterococcus single-sample maximum of 104 cfu/100 ml. If two or more samples collected at a beach exceed the standard or if one sample exceeds 174 cfu/100 ml, a beach advisory is issued. The advisory remains in place until a resample shows that the level is below the state threshold. The state standard for the geometric mean of at least three samples collected over a 60-day period is 35 cfu/100 ml, but the geometric mean standard is not used to issue beach advisories.

Additionally, a preemptive advisory is issued if a public beach area is threatened by a suspected sewage spill or leak. Members of the public are encouraged to report if they fall ill after visiting one of New Hampshire's public beaches, and illness complaints can potentially initiate further investigation of beachwater quality.

The program’s monitoring data are used to identify and prioritize beach cleanup and prevention activities. The DES Beach Program continues to monitor sources discharging to the beach areas at Pirate’s Cove, State Beach, Sawyer Beach and New Castle town beach. Little River is the suspected source at State Beach, Eel Pond is the suspected source at Sawyer Beach, Parson’s Creek is a suspected source to Pirates Cove, and the pipe west of the beach is a possible source to New Castle Town Beach. In May of 2009, the DES and the EPA conducted a dye study on Little River. The dye’s dilution and transport patterns were tracked by DES and EPA staff by periodic water sampling throughout the day. The report Coastal Beach Watershed Bacteria Source Investigation was released in December 2009.

Two important Beach Program goals are to determine watershed contribution of bacteria to coastal beaches and to predict bacterial concentrations during and after a rain event. The program is funding development of a detailed watershed model to predict stormwater transport of bacteria to the state’s beaches. This model will be able to inform future build-out planning, remediation, and construction. In addition to coastal bacteria data, the model will incorporate land use categories, hydrology, topography, historical precipitation records, historical tide data, and waste management.

The NHDES Beach Inspection Program website contains a description of the "Public Beach Inspection Program", which states:

"The Beach Inspection Program monitors the water at New Hampshire public swimming beaches from late May until early September. Personnel collect water for analysis at coastal and freshwater beaches. The water samples are analyzed for fecal bacteria to protect public health.

Bacteria counts that exceed state standards at designated public beaches result in an advisory to notify the public once results are available, approximately 24 hours after sampling.

In addition to monitoring beach waters, the program supports studies to determine bacteria sources to beaches and provides education campaigns to inform people of beach quality.

Public Beach Inspection Program personnel monitor about 170 freshwater public bathing beaches on a monthly basis, and 17 coastal beaches on a weekly or bi-weekly basis during the swim season. DES beach inspectors collect two to five bacteria samples from each beach depending upon the bathing area length. DES inspects on-site toilet facilities, the bathing area, and surrounding areas for the presence of potential health threats, and confers with lifeguards and the public to address their concerns.

DES's Public Beach Inspection Program has monitored public beaches for over 20 years in response to the potential health threats associated with water-borne pathogens. These pathogens are responsible for water-borne diseases such as cholera, giardiasis, gastroenteritis, and cryptosporidiosis. DES also recognizes the threat of toxic cyanobacteria (formerly called blue-green algae) at public beaches. Cyanobacteria are capable of producing toxins known to target the liver and central nervous system and can cause irritations to the skin and mucous membranes. As the use of New Hampshire’s inland and coastal waters grows, the continued goal of the program is to protect public health and inform the public of potential health risks at public beaches."

Currently, seven Tier 1 beaches are monitored at least two times a week, seven Tier 2 beaches are monitored at least once per week, and two Tier 3 beaches are monitored twice per month June 1 through Labor Day. Beaches are monitored according to the Tiered Monitoring Plan which is a performance criteria of the BEACH Act grants and the Quality Assurance Project Plan. For beaches greater than 100 feet in length, three samples are collected at left, center, and right locations in the swim area. The swim area is defined by a roped off area of the beach, or includes the whole beach area. If the beach area is less than 100 feet in length only two samples are taken one third of the distance from either end of the beach. Additional sampling can occur at the discretion of the sampler and may be based upon complaints. DES also monitors rivers/streams and pipes affecting beach areas.

The website contains information about health risks associated with recreational exposure to pathogens in polluted water, a further explanation of beach advisories, and a listing of current advisories. 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.

Beach water quality monitoring data are now available online through the NHDES Environmental Monitoring Database.

Reports for the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 are available online for each of the 16 monitored beaches. In addition, there are microbial source tracking reports, TMDL reports and special study reports here.

Red tide, a harmful marine algal bloom, is monitored by the DES Coastal Program. Shellfish beds are off limits when red tide occurs. Freshwater beaches in the state are monitored for blooms of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), and swim advisories are posted when a visible cyanobacteria scum is present and cyanobacteria cell dominance is more than 50 percent of the sample cell count.

A 2009 red tide caused a near-complete closure of shellfish harvesting in the state of Maine in early July. Atlantic coastal waters of New Hampshire and much of the north coast of Massachusetts was also closed to harvesting. In November 2008 the red tide conditions that had closed local shellfishing beds in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts between April and July 2008 were declared an official disaster by the U.S. Department of Commerce, opening the way for local shellfishermen to receive federal financial assistance. The historic red tide season of 2005 resulted in $23 million in lost shellfish sales in Massachusetts and Maine alone.

Other Monitoring Programs

The University of New Hampshire and the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership has produced the State of the Estuaries 2013 report that explains the status and trends of environmental conditions in the estuaries. There are 14 indicators that aid in understanding the health and condition in the estuaries. They provide a diverse picture of a number of key factors, integral to a healthy and productive system. The indicators include dissolved inorganic nitrogen concentrations, microalgae, dissolved oxygen levels, eelgrass, oyster populations, and bacterial contamination.

National Ocean Service/National Center for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) has carried out many water quality research projects in New Hampshire.

Water Quality Contact

Sonya Carlson
Beach Program Coordinator
Phone: (603) 271-0698

Beach Inspection Program

Beach Closures

See here for current advisories.

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.

NRDC reported:

In 2013, New Hampshire reported 17 coastal beaches, 16 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 3% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 60 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml enterococcus. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in New Hampshire in 2013 were State Beach, North Hampton, in Rockingham County (22%); Northside Park, Hampton, in Rockingham County (6%); Bass Beach, North Hampton, in Rockingham County (4%); New Castle Town Beach in Rockingham County (2%); and North Beach, Hampton, in Rockingham County (1%).

For a bar chart showing a 5-year water quality trend, see NRDC's report.

For more water quality trend information, see this summary from NHDES' Environmental Dashboard.

In June 2013, U.S. EPA released its latest data about beach closings and advisories for the 2012 swimming season. Note that for some states the data is incomplete, making state-to-state or year-to-year comparisons difficult. Here's EPA's BEACH Report for New Hampshire's 2012 Swimming Season. EPA no longer publishes this report.

The United States Geological Survey maintains a Website, USGS Water Resources of New Hampshire and Vermont. This site is a valuable source of information including current projects, online reports, publications, and maps, real-time water conditions and educational outreach material for teachers and students.

Additional water quality information is available from New Hampshire Sea Grant.

Sewage Outfalls and Storm Drains

Information on the location or number of storm drains or sewer outfalls in New Hampshire was not readily available.

In June 2014 Northeast Ocean Data announced the release of easy-to-use interactive maps of water quality data for the northeastern states from New York to Maine. Based on data provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the 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.

Sewage Outfalls

A proposed massive public works project that would pump wastewater from 44 Seacoast communities into the ocean was considered by the Legislature in 2004. The wastewater from 17 treatment facilities and septic waste from the remaining towns would be pumped though a pipeline into the Atlantic, instead of Great Bay. Supporters say it will save money and call it an environmentally conscious way to handle increased development in the area. Fishermen and environmentalists want a cautious approach to look at the impact in the area. Fishermen have pointed to a dramatic decrease in catch in Massachusetts Bay after a new nine-mile underwater tunnel was built to redirect 350 to 400 million gallons per day of treated wastewater from Boston Harbor into Massachusetts Bay.[1]

The "big pipe" option is the most expensive -- and some say the least environmentally friendly -- of four sewage disposal options for the 44 communities in the Great Bay Watershed outlined in a 100-page draft report by Metcalf & Eddy (November 2007). It would cost $589 million to pipe waste four miles out to sea, between Odiorne State Park and the Isle of Shoals. The estuary commission was formed as an advisory group in 2003 to look for solutions to the region's sewage problems. Another slowly-forming quasi-governmental entity, the Estuary Alliance for Sewage Treatment (EAST), will have the power to decide what to do. Three other alternatives mentioned in the Metcalf & Eddy report include keeping the status quo, using decentralized treatment and existing facilities, and adding land discharge to current facilities. See also here.

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). The city’s application to renew its waiver with the Environmental Protection Agency has set off a firestorm among conservationists and fishermen, who say having cleaner waters is worth the $30 million needed to upgrade the plant. Opponents of the waiver filled City Hall in May 2005 at an EPA-sponsored public hearing.

In an interesting development, the Peirce Island Wastewater Treatment Plant was named New Hampshire's Plant of the Year by the New Hampshire Water Pollution Control Association in 2006, despite a recent EPA decision requiring a higher level of treatment than what is currently taking place there. To win the statewide competition, a community's plant facility and operations are judged in six categories: compliance with the discharge permit, safety, employee education, public outreach, professional participation and a tour of the plant. Apparently the reason the local plant won the award is because it is doing a good job at meeting the lax EPA permit standards for the primary treatment of wastewater. It has nothing to do with the much overdue requirement that the city perform secondary treatment on the water it discharges into the Piscataqua River.

The city of Portsmouth had until June 2010 to submit a draft plan and they faced a September 2010 deadline for a final plan on how they will proceed with EPA-required wastewater treatment facility upgrades. Whether to upgrade and expand the current facility on Peirce Island, relocate the plant to the Pease International Tradeport or build a new one on an entirely new piece of land are the main options on the table. Officials estimate relocating the plant could cost between $84 million and $100 million, while the cost of renovating the Peirce Island facility has been estimated to be $89.8 million and purchasing a waterfront parcel and building a new plant could be in the range of $94.5 million. A plan to upgrade wastewater treatment at the Pease location is looking like the most cost-effective alternative and could result in a downsizing of a second treatment facility located on the waterfront at Peirce Island.

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. Higher levels of treatment, present in plants like Durham and Dover, produce significantly lower levels. In the first six hours of the study, on an incoming tide, the injected dye reached Dover Point, Little Bay and the mouth of the Bellamy River upriver from the Scammel Bridge. Levels of concern showed up in Little Bay, just north of Adams Point, in the same tide cycle. By the second day, they had made their way into Great Bay. With the outgoing tide, the dye was tracked to the Piscataqua River mouth at the U.S. Coast Guard station in New Castle and down the coast towards Odiorne Point in Rye. The dye was traced throughout the back channel just south of the sewage plant outfall, up into Sagamore Creek and into Little Harbor at the Wentworth Marina. The dilution rates were not high enough to allow continued shellfish harvesting in these areas. Until the Peirce Island sewage plant is finally upgraded, hundreds of tons more pollution (total suspended solids and oxygen-demanding pollutants) will be pumped into our waters each year, and NHDES’s far-reaching closures will continue. The city says it cannot comply with the current timeline to build a new plant by May 2017 — and wants more time — even though it agreed to the schedule in 2012. The city now is investigating building a regional facility at Pease — a plan that will only result in further compliance delays.

An article "N.H. Sinking in Sewage" by Robert W. Cook appeared in Fosters Online on February 27, 2005. This article stated that New Hampshire relies on Massachusetts and Maine to take one quarter of its septage. As mentioned above, the Great Bay Estuary Commission is studying whether to build an outfall pipe into the Gulf of Maine as one possible solution. The state legislature passed Senate Bill 70 in 2004 to create the Great Bay commission and appropriate $1 million to fund the New Hampshire Seacoast Region Wastewater Management Study. The study will evaluate four primary options for wastewater teatment and disposal:

  • Upgrading the 17 wastewater plants in the Seacoast that handle sewage from the 44 towns to utilize advanced effluent treatment for discharge into existing pipes that flow into the Great Bay.
  • Upgrading the plants and taking the effluent to "land application" sites.
  • Keep the existing plants and combine the effluent into a regional receptor pumped into the Gulf of Maine.
  • Abandon the existing plants and build a large regional plant to treat the sewage and pump into the Gulf of Maine.

In March 2011 between 4 million and 8 million disks spilled out of an overflowing tank at the Hooksett Wastewater Treatment Plant in New Hampshire, along with about 300,000 gallons of raw sewage, and into the Merrimack River. These disks were later found on beaches throughout New Hampshire and in northern Massachusetts. Read more on this from Surfrider Foundation's Coastal Blog in Article 1, Article 2, Article 3.

In March 2012 Hampton voters approved a project to allow the state to hook the North Hampton State Beach bathhouses to the Hampton sewer system via a Rye force main. Residents have long called for upgrades to the capacity and quality of the bathhouses, as there have been overflow and other issues in previous summers. Construction of the project began in May 2012 and was expected to be complete by summer 2013. This includes a replacement of the old bathhouses (built in 1980) with new, larger bathhouses.

In April 2013 the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) published the results of the first comprehensive look at where, how often and how much sewage from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) flows into New England waterways. NECIR's research indicated that in 2011, approximately 500 million gallons of sewage water spilled through 22 pipes throughout New Hampshire. The NECIR investigation determined more than 7 billion gallons spewed into waterways across New England, the first such compilation of an annual total. More info. On the good news front, in February 2015 the city of Portsmouth informed the US EPA that they had completed the last of their identified and scheduled long term control sewer separation projects. "This is a milestone to be recognized," said City Manager John Bohenko. "Over the course of 15 years, the City completed approximately $50 million project cost of work that has reduced flooding, improved drainage and delivered tangible environmental benefits." More.

Storm Drains

The New Hampshire Coastal Program has developed and is overseeing the implementation of the state's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program (CNPCP). Activities include:

  • Coordination and promotion of cooperation among state and local organizations and agencies on issues relative to nonpoint source pollution control measures.
  • Technical assistance to state, regional and local agencies regarding control measures.
  • Public education and public participation opportunities for nonpoint source control.
  • Long-term water quality monitoring and research support in the coastal area.

The CNPCP manages land use activities (agriculture, forestry, land development, marinas/recreational boating and channelization) that cause secondary sources of "pollution" to coastal waters and habitats. NH's CNPCP is one of only eight federally approved CNPCPs. It received full federal approval in October 2001. The CNPCP is important because nonpoint sources of pollution are harder to identify and control than point sources. As a result, nonpoint sources of pollution are now responsible (in most states) for between one-third and two-thirds of existing and threatened impairments of the states' waters.

The goal of New Hampshire’s Nonpoint Source (NPS) Program is to protect and restore clean water in the state’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, and other waters from the negative impacts of nonpoint source pollution. Specifically, the NPS Program works toward improving land management practices such that water quality in impaired watersheds is restored and water quality in healthy watersheds is not degraded as a result of land use activities. The objectives of this Plan are to:

  • Inform NH residents and NPS partners about the causes and impacts of NPS pollution in New Hampshire.
  • Set broad priorities for addressing NPS pollution sources in New Hampshire.
  • Identify long-term goals for protecting and restoring waters and watersheds from NPS pollution.
  • Establish specific, short-term objectives and measurable milestones to be accomplished over the next 5 years to work toward attaining long-term NPS Program goals.

In 2014 the Department of Environmental Services (DES) will be updating New Hampshire’s Nonpoint Source (NPS) Management Plan (Plan). The Plan serves as a non-regulatory road map to guide NPS Program activities including outreach, planning, and implementation projects. The Plan updates the state’s 1999 NPS Plan and outlines New Hampshire’s approach to addressing NPS pollution during years 2015 through 2019.

The New Hampshire Coastal Nonpoint Program and other partners have worked to create the Natural Resources Outreach Coalition (NROC). NROC provides coordinated technical assistance to municipalities within the coastal watershed to address nonpoint source pollution and implement regulatory efforts at the local level. Since it began in 1999, NROC has helped 16 communities update land use plans and ordinances to be more effective in reducing polluted runoff, protecting wetlands, and preserving open space.

University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center - The Center for Stormwater Technology Evaluation and Verification CSTEV is a groundbreaking program that provides rigorous scientific field-testing and demonstration of stormwater treatment technologies. Funded by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology CICEET, a partnership between the NOAA and the University of New Hampshire (UNH), CSTEV offers workshops in support of municipal managers, engineers, and others charged with developing and implementing stormwater management plans. The Center has installed and is testing 12 different best management practices (BMPs) at its nine-acre site at the UNH Durham campus. The multi-year project has been going on for about a year, and has generated extensive data on pollutant removal efficiencies and hydrology of conventional BMPs, Low Impact Development (LID) BMPs, and manufactured BMPs.

The New Hampshire Stormwater Center has published its first year of field data as well as several other reports. The 2005 Data Report evaluates the effectiveness of 12 stormwater treatments in protecting water quality and reducing runoff. The analysis revealed distinctive trends. As a group, LID designs exhibited the highest pollutant removal efficiency, while the performance of manufactured devices varied. Traditional approaches, such as a riprap swale, did poorly to moderately at best. Certain design elements, common to several systems, exhibited the most effective pollutant removal. These included infiltration and filtration mechanisms, large storage volumes and residence time, and dense root mats and herbaceous plants to absorb pollutants. You can browse the report online. Also see the Stormwater Center 2007 Annual Report, Fall 2008 Progress Reports and other CICEET News.

Researchers from the CICEET-sponsored University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center are developing a national training to address coastal municipal decision makers’ need for a clear articulation of the economic, and public and environmental health incentives for adopting LID stormwater management methods. The curriculum will be developed in close collaboration with the target audience for the training.

The U.S. Geological Survey and NHCP published a study Effects of Urbanization on Stream Quality at Selected Sites in the Seacoast Region in New Hampshire, 2001-03, which includes results from a three-year cooperative study to determine if urban development affects water quality in New Hampshire’s coastal watersheds. This study is unique because it provides scientific data about local watersheds and streams. Many studies in the past have been conducted at the national level.

The following text is from the Conclusions section of the report:

"Concentrations of selected chemical constituents were found to be higher in watersheds with high percent of impervious surface than in watersheds with low percent of impervious surface. Chemical concentrations in watersheds with the lowest percentages of impervious surface had the lowest concentrations of all detectable constituents."

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), has prepared two water-quality models to assist in regional total maximum daily load (TMDL) studies and nutrient criteria development efforts in New England. SPARROW (Spatially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes) are spatially detailed, statistical models in a geographic information systems (GIS) framework that use regression equations to relate total phosphorus and total nitrogen stream loads to contaminant sources and watershed characteristics. These statistical relations are then used to predict nutrient loads in unmonitored streams.

Boat Discharges

Both human health and coastal environments are threatened by disease carrying bacteria and viruses that enter the water when boats directly discharge sewage.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved New Hampshire’s request to designate its coastal waters as a No Discharge Area. New Hampshire’s coastal No Discharge Area consists of all tidal and estuarine waters, including all bays and rivers, and also ocean waters within three miles of the New Hampshire shoreline and the Isles of Shoals. Discharges of treated and untreated boat sewage in these areas are prohibited. Before making a No Discharge designation, EPA and the state make sure that there are enough pumpout facilities where boaters can get their holding tanks pumped out. New Hampshire’s coastline has an estimated 4,593 boats, of which 962 are large enough to have a “head”, or toilet on board. The pumpout facilities include five that are fixed or shore based, and one that is a pumpout boat. Boat sewage can lead to health problems for swimmers, closed shellfish beds and marine habitat degradation. New Hampshire is the second state in New England to designate all of its coastal waters as No Discharge.

Information on the current no discharge areas in New England waters. Also see What Every Boater Should Know About New Hampshire’s No Discharge Area for more information.

Water Quality Contact (Runoff and Outfalls)

Sally Soule
Coastal Nonpoint Source
Pollution Control Program Coordinator
(603) 559-0032

Perception of Causes

DES considers the primary sources of advisories/closures to be waste from humans, domestic animals, waterfowl and wildlife. They consider the greatest threats to water quality to be outdated or undersized treatment facilities and non-point source pollution.

The report Coastal Beach Watershed Bacteria Source Investigation was released in December 2009. The Summary and Recommendations section of that report states:

This investigation has been successful in creating an inventory of bacteria sources in eight coastal watersheds. For each watershed, the nature and extent of bacteria sources has been characterized. Scientifically-defensible methods for estimating bacteria loads were identified and applied to support estimation of bacteria loads in each watershed. Using these methods, developed area runoff was estimated to be the largest source of watershed bacteria. Wildlife also appears to be a major source of bacteria. Failing septic systems appear to major sources of bacteria in specific, “hotspot” areas. Further, more site specific, investigation is recommended to improve the accuracy of watershed bacteria source characterization.

Statistical analyses were successful in identifying 24-hour antecedent rainfall as a good predictor of elevated bacteria levels at several coastal beaches. Specifically, rainfall amount of 0.12” or greater were associated with elevated beach bacteria events in most cases. Additional statistical analyses are recommended to improve the accuracy of predicting elevated bacteria events and to enhance understanding of bacteria sources.

Three beach watersheds, Parsons Creek watershed, Little River watershed, and New Castle Town Beach watershed, were identified as most impacted by elevated bacteria events. We recommend developing watershed based plans, including additional investigation of bacteria sources, in these three beach watersheds. Watershed based plans (WBPs) include the following components:

  • Stakeholder meetings;
  • Pollutant source identification field surveys;
  • Revised bacteria load estimation;
  • Prioritized listing of bacteria sources;
  • Preliminary bacteria source mitigation measures for high priority sources; and
  • A watershed based plan report.

Watershed based plans will enhance understanding of bacteria sources and help to identify appropriate remedial actions to restore these watersheds. In addition, WBPs will provide information sufficient to support application for CWA Section 319 grant funding for mitigation measures to remove top priority bacteria sources in the watershed. Successfully applying for and receiving 319 grant funding is dependent on financial local stakeholder participation and available federal funding and, therefore, cannot be guaranteed.

Statistical analyses of elevated bacteria events and associated parameter values, particularly antecedent rainfall, have shown promise for support beach water quality notification purposes. We recommend applying statistical analysis techniques, including the Classification Tree and Receiver Operating Characteristics methods, to larger data sets and assessing their ability to predict elevated bacteria events. Additional time-series data, such as solar irradiance, beach population, and tidal height, should be compiled and applied statistical analysis process. Statistical analysis can support public notification of health risk and can provide keen insights to causes of elevated bacteria events.

The report State of our Estuaries 2013, published by the UNH-based Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP), stated:

"Impervious cover (paved parking lots, roadways and roofs) continued to increase throughout the region over the past three years. During rain storms and snow melt, water running over impervious areas carries pollutants which negatively impact the cleanliness of our rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

In 2010, 9.6% of the land area of the Piscataqua Region watershed was covered by impervious surfaces. Since 1990, the amount of impervious surfaces has increased by 120% while population has grown by 19%."

A list of impaired waters in New Hampshire can be found on the Surface Water Quality Assessment Program website. Specifically, the list of impaired beaches (most of these are freshwater beaches) can be found here. The Surface Water Quality Assessment Program website also has links to water quality assessment reports for 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012.

The Nonpoint Source Management 2012 Annual Report (March 2013) describes the activities and accomplishments completed and achieved in New Hampshire during the year ending September 30, 2012 with funding from Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, including $1,187,087 in 2012. In 2012 the Pemigewasset River was added to the official Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) list of 319 Success Stories in New Hampshire because an impairment was fully addressed by a 319 project, resulting in the river once again meeting water quality standards (see here).

Red Tides, Algae Blooms and Shellfish


The health of shellfish beds is an indicator of the overall water quality of our coastal waters. The availability of both commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting opportunities helps support a vibrant economy along the coast. The percentage of acre-days available for harvesting is representative of the impact of pollution in these coastal waters. Recreational and commercial shellfish harvest areas are sometimes closed because filter-feeding shellfish such as clams, oysters, and mussels are chronically or intermittently exposed to pollution.

In 2012, the percentages of acre-days available for harvesting shellfish in the following areas were: Little Harbor, 27%; Great Bay, 77%; Hampton/Seabrook Harbor, 44%; and Bellamy River, 25%.

Although recreational harvesting has declined since the late 1980s, the commercial oyster industry is expanding, having grown from two farms in 2010 to nine farms in 2013 with total harvest projections by 2015 to be 2.55 to 3.83 million oysters per year. This results in an annual wholesale commercial value of $1.7 million to $2.5 million. DES calculates an acre-day by comparing the number of days an area could be open for harvest to the number of days it is actually open for harvest. Temporary harvest closures are common in many shellfish growing areas following rainfall events, when runoff from impervious surfaces, such as pavement and rooftops, carries bacteria from pet and/or wildlife feces to the shellfish areas. Other sources of the bacteria may include waste discharges from boats, failing septic systems or pipe discharges of raw sewage.

More frequent heavy rainfall events in recent years have curtailed harvesting opportunities in areas such as Great Bay, although this area is still open more frequently than other harvest areas in the state. Little Harbor is kept closed for much of the year because of its proximity to large municipal wastewater treatment facilities, its small size, and the relatively large number of recreational boats that are kept in nearby marinas and mooring fields. Limited seasonal openings in late fall, winter, and early spring are occasionally shortened by rainfall closures. Hampton/Seabrook Harbor and Little Harbor have both seen an increase in harvesting opportunities. Unfortunately the Bellamy River has seen frequent closures in recent years due to bacterial contamination from sources that are being studied. More info.

Here is a link to learn more about the DES Shellfish Program.

Red Tides and Algae Blooms

In May 2005 the largest outbreak of "red tide" (harmful algal blooms) in 12 years caused the closure of shellfish beds fom Maine to Cape Cod. The predominant species in this outbreak was Alexandrium fundyense. Following is selected text from an article on the Red Tide outbreak that appeared in the October 2005 edition of the NHCP newsletter The Rip Tide.

"Signs with captions like, “Clams not from New England,” or “Our Seafood is Safe,” appeared at many local restaurants last summer. A massive regional bloom of the toxic producing algae that causes the potentially fatal Parlaytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) syndrome and the water condition commonly known as “red tide” resulted in shellfish bed closures from Maine to Massachusetts during the 2005 season.

The summer saw the longest closures in New Hampshire’s history, cutting the recreational season short and disrupting the commercial harvest. The DES Shellfish program closed shellfish beds twice in New Hampshire due to high toxin levels detected in shellfish. The closures delayed the commercial harvest in New Hampshire, but didn’t result in a big loss. However, the commercial loss was severe in Maine and Massachusetts.

Red tide is caused by microscopic algae. Some microscopic algae produce toxins, which accumulate inside shellfish like clams, oysters and mussels as they filter water through their bodies as part of their feeding routine. Although there are several types of algae that cause various types of illnesses, the major concern in New Hampshire is the species Alexandrium, which causes PSP. Not all species of algae produce toxins.

Shellfish contaminated with the toxin that causes PSP can be fatal to humans within 24 hours of consumption, and symptoms of nonfatal cases include burning, numbness, drowsiness, incoherent speech, and respiratory paralysis. There have been no PSP deaths in New Hampshire. PSP also affects marine life, like birds and whales.

Algae blooms happen offshore each year in the spring and early summer in response to increased sunlight and nutrient levels. The problem occurs when the blooms are blown closer to the shore by wind and water currents. High levels of spring runoff, which contains nutrients, associated with the unusually heavy melt from the snows last winter is believed to have contributed to the intense 2005 bloom. In addition, the high winds during two major storms in May contributed to the blooms reaching nearshore areas. By the end of autumn, the algae settle in offshore ocean sediments in the form of cysts, where they lie dormant for the winter. The cycle repeats itself the following spring, when the cysts germinate into free-swimming, reproducing cells.

DES weekly monitored blue mussels at its Hampton site, which is a popular area for recreational clamming, and Star Island, an offshore area near a commercial aquaculture site. Blue mussels are used because they quickly accumulate the toxin that causes PSP. Other sites and species were monitored as needed. Shellfish closures due to PSP toxins for offshore waters began on May 5 and nearshore waters on May 12. Offshore waters was lifted by one reopening on July 26. Nearshore waters were opened in two steps. Nearshore mussels opened on July 21, and nearshore surf clams opened on September 21.

Between 1987 and 2002, there have been eight years where closures were instituted in New Hampshire due to PSP toxins. No closures were instituted from 1999-2002, although closures were necessary in 2003 and 2004. Historically, PSP has been largely unknown in New England, but was reported in Canada 100 years ago. The first PSP case in Maine was in 1958 near the Canadian border. The first widespread bloom affecting southern areas, including New Hampshire, was in 1972."

Here is a link to information about:
Trends in New Hampshire’s Environment Lakes/Ponds and Rivers/Streams: Lake Water Clarity, Algal Growth and Nutrients

Public Education

New Hampshire performs outreach to encourage the public to take actions to improve water quality. Beach users are encouraged to remove any trash they bring onto the beach. At the Wild New Hampshire Day in 2008, the Beach Program encouraged people to pick up after their pets and distributed educational materials regarding pet waste disposal. Nineteen pet waste stations and six cigarette snuffers were installed at beach entrances by volunteers in 2008. The DES assists with the Adopt-A-Beach program, which is run by the Blue Ocean Society, and the Hampton Beach Adopt-a- Beach Program continues to be a success. Volunteers participated in 31 cleanups during 2008, resulting in 1,600 pounds of trash collected. The most numerous items found were cigarette butts, plastic bottles, metal cans, and straws. Ten other beaches receive volunteer cleanups roughly once a month as part of the Adopt-a-Beach program. In addition to monthly clean-ups, the Blue Ocean Society, the Ocean Conservancy and the DES Coastal Program sponsor a one-day event where volunteers pick up trash along the coast.

The New Hampshire Coastal Program coordinates an annual coastal cleanup that is part of the International Coastal Cleanup Day event sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. Concerned citizens from around the world head out to the beaches near them to clean up trash and record their findings. The data is used to determine trends of debris and sources of debris so that education can be targeted correctly.

The NH Coastal Program offers or participates in several coastal cleanup programs for interested volunteers. Volunteers include school and scout groups, businesses, not-for profit organizations and individuals. Because of these programs, all 18.5 miles of Atlantic Coast are cleaned and monitored regularly.

New Hampshire has instituted a Get Your Butts off the Beach. Please! campaign focusing on cigarette butt litter at the beach. State and private campaign partners encourage beachgoers to dispose of their cigarette butts properly in designated receptacles, not the sand. Partners also hope to motivate people to carry out all of their trash instead of leaving it on the beach. N.H. State Parks has a "Carry-in Carry-Out" trash policy in all their parks, including Seacoast beaches.

As part of the New Hampshire Coastal Program's Ask Me About the Coast, they urge people to: "Don’t Dump Anything Anywhere! (D2A2). When outside, keep track of all wrappers, cans and other items; leave nothing behind. Don’t dump anything, ever, into a storm drain, including dog poop! What goes down there today, ends up in our water bodies tomorrow, polluting places where we boat, swim and fish. Home owners: maintain your septic system; they can be major polluters when not working correctly."

NH Fish & Game Department's Wildlife Journal has published an article on marine debris.

The Natural Resources Outreach Coalition (NROC) is a collaborative endeavor to support New Hampshire coastal watershed communities facing growth by helping them understand the impacts of growth on natural resources. NROC includes representatives from the New Hampshire Office of State Planning Coastal Program and NH Estuaries Project, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, The Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and the Rockingham and Strafford Planning Commissions.

The New Hampshire Pollution Prevention Program (NHPPP) is a free, confidential, non-enforcement, pollution prevention and compliance assistance program available to all NH businesses, institutions, municipalities and agencies.

Absorbing the Storm - Simple Actions for Managing Stormwater in Your Own Back Yard and many other educational materials are available from GREENWorks, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Lawns to Lobsters seeks to educate the public on environmentally sound lawn care practices in order to protect and improve water quality in York’s rivers and ocean.

Three guides in the how-to planning series by the Strafford Regional Planning Commission and partially funded by NHCP are now available: How-to Protect Water Quality by Managing Nonpoint Source Water Pollution; How-to Reduce Nonpoint Source Water Pollution in Rural Areas, Promote Open Space Conservation/Cluster Development Subdivisions; and How-to Improve Neighborhood Design and Reduce Nonpoint Source Water Pollution. These comprehensive reports include additional references and graphics related to each topic. They talk about how to address nonpoint source pollution in New Hampshire’s coastal watershed in an easy-to read format.

The Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET) is a leader in transforming the best available science into practical, innovative tools that coastal managers need to address their priority challenges. CICEET is a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of New Hampshire.

The CICEET - sponsored University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center and Connecticut Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) have launched an interactive database that documents the implementation of innovative stormwater approaches, such as low impact development designs, in New England. A lack of applied examples often limits the widespread acceptance and implementation of innovative stormwater best management practices. Searchable by state and town, the UNHSC-NEMO Innovative Stormwater Management Inventory is a database of New England sites where innovative stormwater BMPs have been implemented. Database users are welcome to add new examples of innovative BMP implementation and provide suggestions of how to improve this regional resource.

The University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center has a Green Infrastructure for NH Coastal Communities website that discusses the efforts of researchers from the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center, Geosyntec, staff from the Southeast Watershed Alliance, Rockingham Planning Commission, Antioch University and Great Bay NERR to support green infrastructure and Low Impact Development in New Hampshire Coastal Communities.

In 2002, Senator Judd Gregg, in coordination with state and federal land conservation experts, established the Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program (CELCP) "for the purpose of protecting important coastal and estuarine areas that have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, or aesthetic values, or that are threatened by conversion from their natural or recreational state to other uses," giving priority to lands that can be effectively managed and protected and that have significant ecological value.

General Reference Documents and Websites

EPA has compiled several NPS (Nonpoint Source) Outreach Products that are a selection of television, radio, and print products on nonpoint source pollution that have been developed by various agencies and organizations around the country. They are good examples of outreach in the mass media. Also see What You Can Do.

NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, International City/County Management Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant, has released an interagency guide that adapts smart growth principles to the unique needs of coastal and waterfront communities. Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities builds on existing smart growth principles to offer 10 coastal and waterfront-specific guidelines that help manage development while balancing environmental, economic, and quality of life issues.


State of the Beach Report: New Hampshire
New Hampshire Home Beach Description Beach Access Water Quality Beach Erosion Erosion Response Beach Fill Shoreline Structures Beach Ecology Surfing Areas Website
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