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EPA official tours water projects in Durham

DURHAM — The Environmental Protection Agency’s Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner was in town on Wednesday to learn about some of the approaches Durham and the University of New Hampshire are using to address wastewater and storm water issues.

Stoner met in the unassuming parking lot at Pettee Brook Lane and Madbury Road where she learned how a rain garden is helping to filter and treat pollutants before they enter Pettee Brook and make their way to Great Bay.

In 2011, Stoner issued a memo pushing forward the idea of integrating storm water and wastewater treatment plant permits to allow municipalities greater flexibility to address the issues that are a priority to them. For municipalities around Great Bay, that issue is nitrogen.

New wastewater treatment plant permits being issued by the EPA will require municipalities to reduce nitrogen discharge down to 3 mg/L, a limit that town engineer David Cedarholm said is not sustainable for the extreme cost to achieve it.

Currently, the Durham Wastewater Treatment plant, which also covers UNH, can treat down to 8 mg/L for most of the year and 5 mg/L in the summer, when most students have left campus.

Being able to treat non-point sources of nitrogen, including run-off from parking lots, could work as a trade-off for nitrogen released from the plant in one example of how an integrated permit could work.

Cedarholm said an integrated permit approach from EPA could be years away but Stoner “forged a new path” in her 2011 and 2012 memos focusing on an integrated watershed approach.

During her visit, Stoner said she appreciates visiting a community that is putting the integrated approach model to work.

She said the overarching goal is to achieve water quality standards in the water body itself, and believes an integrated approach is a more cost-effective way to get there.

“You guys are showing the way,” she said.

The $8,000 rain garden project at the Pettee Brook parking lot was paid in part with EPA funds and in part by the town and used applied research from the UNH Stormwater Center.

Cedarholm said the project represents a small but simple approach to addressing non-point source issues in Durham.

“The thing I like about these parking lot type of approaches is you can fit them right in,” Stoner said.

During her visit Stoner also viewed the Stormwater Center’s test facility at the West Edge parking lot, the pervious pavement parking lot at the Elliott Alumni “The thing I like about these parking lot type of approaches is you can fit them right in,” Stoner said. Center and pervious paving stones used at Hood House.

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