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Great Bay gets boost from Rep. Shea-Porter

GREENLAND - About 100 people gathered at the Hugh Gregg Coastal Conservation Center on Tuesday night to talk about the health and future of Great Bay.

The open public forum was hosted by Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee.

EPA Regional Administrator Curt Spalding provided a bit of optimism on the forecast for the bay. Coming from Rhode Island where his work focused on the debilitated Narragansett Bay, Spalding said the variety of habitat in the Great Bay watershed is the envy of communities like his.

From that previous work, he said he understands that it is local communities and people who save watersheds, not government.

"EPA doesn't save bays. The people who live in those places save those places," he said.

But there are problems in Great Bay, including an increase in nitrogen flowing into the bay from wastewater treatment plants and non-point sources.

The goal of the forum was to talk about innovative ideas and collaborations needed to move forward in protecting the bay and the 52 communities around it in New Hampshire and Maine.

"New Hampshire has an incredible opportunity to show the country how to conserve a resource like Great Bay in a new and pioneering way," he said.

Right now, many communities around the bay, including Rochester, Portsmouth, Newmarket and Exeter are in the process of finalizing wastewater treatment permits with the EPA that will require them to increase treatment for nitrogen. Newmarket is already in the planning stages of a new plant, while other communities are still figuring out how they are going to pay for one.

But Spalding said the action on point sources, namely waste water treatment plants, is only "buying time" to get at the larger issue of what is happening in the entire watershed.

Regardless, EPA still has legal obligations under the Clean Water Act.

"If a water body is impaired, you can't make it any worse," Spalding said. "When a permit comes up . if the water body is impaired, which this is, you can't be adding to the problem."

Shea-Porter said watersheds such as Great Bay are national treasures that need to be protected, not just for the people who live on the coast, but for everyone.

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