WIN WITH WATER: Drinking Water Systems, Communities and New Hampshire Lead to Nation to Overcome Unprecedented Challenges and Create Opportunities
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
Over the past five years, public water systems and owners of private wells in New Hampshire have faced unprecedented challenges. Poly and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have contaminated hundreds of wells for public water systems and thousands of private wells throughout the entire state, especially in the southern population centers. Droughts of varying degrees of magnitude have been declared in five out of the last seven years. The health threats posed by arsenic, manganese and lead moved policy makers to implement new standards and approaches to deal with these contaminants. These challenges coupled with COVID, inflation, supply chain issues and a shrinking labor market have brought extraordinary stress on communities, residents and water systems throughout the state.
New Hampshire is responding to these challenges. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), water systems, and partner associations such as the New Hampshire Municipal Association, New Hampshire Water Works Association, Granite State Rural Water and local and statewide community groups are informing residents and policy makers at all levels. Elected officials at the local, state and federal
level are engaged in these issues and have responded by providing policies and financial resources needed to initially respond to the exposure to PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water. Financial assistance programs consisting of grants and low-interest loans are available to public water systems. More information regarding grant and loan programs such as the State Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund, PFAS Remediation Loan and Grant Fund, Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Grants and Loans, and PFAS treatment design grants and water system consolidation studies to address water quality issues can be found at https://www.des.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt341/files/documents/2020-01/ pws-funding-resources.pdf. Many of these funding programs are also being used to access funds to reduce the concentration of arsenic and manganese in drinking water. PFAS have impacted private wells statewide. The NHDES sampling map can be viewed at (https://nhdes.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html appid=66770bef141c43a98a445c54a17720e2&extent=-73.5743,42.5413,-69.6852,45.4489) In addition to the financial assistance programs available for public water systems, New Hampshire has established a private well PFAS rebate program for owners of private wells that produce water with a PFAS concentration that exceeds a state standard (https://www4.des.state.nh.us/nh-pfas-investigation/?page_id=1419). This program offers a rebate of up to $5,000 to install treatment and $10,000 to connect to a water system.
In response to the frequent re-occurrence of droughts in New Hampshire and the associated impacts on private well owners, New Hampshire created a new initiative to provide short-term relief and financial assistance for low-income homeowners served by residential wells that are experiencing insufficient water or no water due to drought conditions. This new private well assistance program is called the Water Assistance for Natural Disaster (WAND) Impacts to Low-Income Residential Well Owners (https://www4.des.state.nh.us/nh-dwg-trust/?page_id=1572).
Lastly, recent changes in state law require that schools and daycares test and mitigate any fixture that can be accessed for drinking water if the concentration of lead exceeds 5 parts-per-billion (ppb) which is lower than the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) action level of 15 ppb. NHDES is utilizing grants from USEPA to pay for the testing costs and grants from the New Hampshire Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund to partially pay for the mitigation of fixtures in schools (https://www.des.nh.gov/water/drinking-water/lead/schoolsand- child-care-programs). USEPA is also requiring that by October 2024 approximately 1200 water systems in New Hampshire complete a full inventory of water service lines for each of its customers and identify which service lines may contain lead and thus require additional assessments
or complete replacement. NHDES is assisting with this work by offering the services of contractors paid for by the state for water systems serving less than 1500 people and offering grants to water systems that serve water to more than 1500 people.
Through collaboration, the state is taking the steps it needs to ensure there is a safe and reliable supply of drinking water for New Hampshire now and into the future. If your community has questions or would like to discuss drinking water supply related issues, feel free to contact Brandon Kernen at 603 271 1168 or mailto:Brandon.Kernen@des.nh.gov.