Are You Aware of the Low-Income Drought Assistance Program

Erin Holmes, Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Administrator

Are you aware of the Low-Income Drought Assistance Program (DAP) created by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) to assist eligible low-income homeowners with their need for an immediate reliable water supply and to improve the resiliency of their drinking water against future threats of drought? The program provides financial assistance to meet these residents’ essential needs, keep them in their homes and reduce stress on local financial aid programs.

NHDES webpage

The program was created in response to drought conditions that emerged in New Hampshire at the end of June 2020 and persisted through the summer and fall, leaving some residents relying on private wells with little to no water. With significant impacts across industries, communities and agriculture, drought has a detrimental impact on low-income families on private, shallow drinking water supply wells, eliminating the primary source of drinking and household water for many of the State’s most vulnerable citizens. Throughout summer 2020, the State was receiving reports of residential wells going dry and wait times of weeks to months for well drilling services.

While there are various resources available to assist water utilities with building drought resiliency and addressing water supply emergencies, historically, the state has not had a funding source to help those on private residential wells experiencing water supply shortages during a drought. Further, low-income homeowners who do not have the financial resources to have a well deepened or replaced have been left to make do, relying on a neighbor’s garden hose or a local emergency water access location to meet basic potable water needs. Fortunately, 2020 afforded a silver lining when a newly established fund was tapped to provide assistance to these homeowners. 

In early October 2020, recognizing the impact the drought was having on New Hampshire residents across the state, Governor Sununu announced his intention to provide emergency relief to the State’s most vulnerable citizens suffering from the effects of the drought. NHDES sought emergency funds from the State’s Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund (Trust Fund) and was approved for $1.5 million on October 15, 2020.

The Trust Fund was established under RSA 485-F with funds received from a jury verdict in a trial with ExxonMobil Corp. as part of a 10-year lawsuit seeking damages for the statewide problem of methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MtBE) contamination of the state’s groundwater resources. The Trust Fund is intended to provide for the protection, preservation and enhancement of the drinking water and groundwater resources of the state. As part of the establishment of the Trust Fund, the legislature formed the Drinking Water and Groundwater Advisory Commission (Commission). The 19-member Commission is comprised of members of the State Senate and House of Representatives, representatives from five state agencies, municipal officials, and members of the public and chaired by Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem). 

map of awards

The DAP is for low-income homeowners experiencing drought-related loss of a safe, reliable source of drinking water at their primary residence. This program also provides short-term relief with the provision of bottled water and financial assistance for activities associated with improving or replacing the homeowner’s well or connecting the residence to an available community water supply. Eligibility is determined through a two-part application. The level of financial assistance is based on the total household income and qualified homeowners are eligible to receive bottled water for essential household functions such as drinking and cooking until the well improvement/replacement project is completed.

Residents who are affected by the drought in immediate need of bottled water may complete the survey linked here (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/wellwaterhelp) where they will be asked to self-screen their household income. However, an eligibility application is required to continue receiving bottled water aid and aid may be terminated if an application is not received within a reasonable timeframe.

To date, NHDES has received over 97 applications from as far north as Milan and as far south as Nashua. Over 85% of the approved projects have been for the replacement of dug wells with drilled wells, which are considered much more resilient to drought impacts. Eligible project costs are approved through the application process and include water quality testing following the well improvements.

Currently, the DAP has two levels of financial assistance:

  • Tier 1 provides financial assistance for the total cost of the well improvement or replacement project, less a $250 deductible for qualifying households with a total household income at or below $37,028.50 [50% of the statewide average median household income (MHI) based on the 2014-2018 American Community Survey 5-year Estimates].
  • Tier 2 provides financial assistance as a 50% cost share for qualifying households in which the total household income is over $37,028.50 and at or below 80% of the MHI for their area based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) income criterion with some modifications. The application includes a table summarizing the Tier 2 income criteria.

DAP Application Process

The application consists of two parts that must be completed by the applicant and signed where required. Part I is to determine the homeowner’s eligibility and level of financial assistance. The applicant is required to submit proof of income to determine eligibility and the amount of financial assistance available to them.

Part 2 is completed by a licensed well driller or pump installer contractor who evaluates and assesses the impact of the drought on the condition of the well and provides a work scope and estimate for remediation of the drought impact. If the contractor does not conclude that the well has been impacted by drought circumstances, the application is not eligible.

The program is retroactive to June 23, 2020, when southeastern New Hampshire had a D1 Moderate Drought designation and paid receipts of work completed are eligible to be submitted for reimbursement for qualifying applicants. 

To keep personal financial information secure and private, all applications and supporting documents are only accepted by mail or dropped off in person at an external drop box located at NHDES.

Please address the submittals to:

Attn: Paige Relf

NHDES – MtBE/TF

29 Hazen Drive

P.O. Box 95

Concord, NH 03302-0095

Once both parts of the application are received, a determination is made on eligibility and applicants, along with the contractor, are notified. The turnaround time for an application review is currently less than one week.

trust fund logo

More Information

For more information regarding the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund or the Low-Income Drought Assistance Program, please reach out to Erin Holmes, the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Administrator, at (603) 848-4259 or erin.l.holmes@des.nh.gov.

For assistance with the application process and temporary provision of bottled water, please contact Paige Relf at (603) 271-1355 or paige.n.relf@des.nh.gov or the NHDES DAP staff at the following email address: droughtwellinfo@des.nh.gov.

Additional information on the DAP initiative and the program applications can be found on the Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund website.