The Bulletin Board

DES poised to get $30,000 to address cyanobacteria

By: - May 25, 2022 1:32 pm

Cyanobacteria occurs naturally, but when there are too many nutrients in the water the growth can get out of control. (Photo of Phillips Pond in Sandown, September 2021; courtesy of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services)

Fueled by climate change, the state’s cyanobacteria problem has been worsening in recent years – making some rivers and lakes potentially harmful to human health.

On Thursday, lawmakers in the House and Senate will vote on House Bill 1066 – one attempt to tackle this problem. If both bodies approve it, the bill would advance to the governor’s desk.

The latest version of the bill instructs the Department of Environmental Services to create a plan for addressing cyanobacterial blooms in New Hampshire using $30,000 in state funding added by the Senate and agreed to by House negotiators last week. 

Cyanobacteria is a type of bacteria that lives in the water. It occurs naturally, but human activities, such as old or poorly maintained septic systems or run-off from yards, can spur its growth by adding nutrients to the water.

The Department of Environmental Services currently issues cyanobacteria alerts and health advisories when there are confirmed reports of blooms. It also runs a harmful algal blooms program that collects water samples, monitors blooms, and conducts public outreach and education about cyanobacteria.

The department issued its first advisory of 2022 late last week, after a cyanobacteria bloom was identified in Arlington Mill Pond in Salem. “Widespread and dense surface accumulations are present in all coves, and at all observed beaches,” the advisory states. Water samples found cyanobacterial levels of 300,000 cells/mL, over four times the level that triggers an advisory (70,000 cells/mL). 

HB 1066 would also create a 17-member advisory committee that includes lawmakers, state workers, environmental engineers, University of New Hampshire experts, veterinarians, environmental groups, and lake residents who have monitored cyanobacteria levels in their lakes. The advisory committee meets through November 2023 and would advise the department commissioner about the causes and impacts of cyanobacteria, propose solutions, and make budgetary and legislative recommendations.

Another legislative effort to address the state’s cyanobacteria problem, House Bill 1042, was killed by the House Judiciary Committee early in the session. It would’ve required landlords with vacation or recreation properties to notify renters that the state’s water bodies may at times have fecal bacteria or cyanobacteria counts at levels high enough to risk their and their pet’s health. 

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.