Toxins in the blooms can make people and animals swimming in or drinking affected waters very sick. (N.H. Department of Environmental Services, des.nh.gov.)
Cyanobacteria blooms are “the biggest threat to New Hampshire that nobody knows about,” according to Rep. Rosemarie Rung, a Merrimack Democrat.
These harmful blooms, which often manifest as green scum floating on the surface of lakes and ponds, are on the rise in New Hampshire. They sometimes result when excess nutrients from farms or over-fertilized lawns enter a body of water.
Toxins in the blooms can make people and animals swimming in or drinking affected waters very sick.
Last year, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law House Bill 1066, instructing the Department of Environmental Services to produce a report on cyanobacteria. House Bill 276, incorporated into the budget passed by the House last week, would provide additional funding to support cyanobacteria bloom mitigation across the state.
The bill would make $25 million in grants and low-interest loans available to “municipalities, community water systems and non-profit lake and river watershed associations” that have been unable to address their blooms through low-cost means. These loans and grants could be used to cover up to the full cost of certain projects.
Rung, the bill’s lead sponsor, told the House Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee in January that it is important not only to test for cyanobacteria, but also to make funding available to address identified blooms.
Though DES did not take a position on the bill, David Neils, chief aquatic biologist for the department, told the committee that he anticipates that the funding in HB 276 would help address many of the recommendations from the forthcoming DES cyanobacteria report, which will be published in November.
Neils said that the most common question he receives from people and communities affected by blooms is about funding.
“What they really want to know, as a result of that bloom, is how do we fix that? And right now we don’t have the resources to fix that bloom,” Neils said. “This bill would address that problem.”
Representatives of municipalities, public water systems, and lakes associations present at the hearing confirmed that funding for cyanobacteria mitigation efforts are top-of-mind for them.
“Our local communities, our lake associations, and our municipalities generally have a pretty good idea of what is contributing pollution to our lakes that is causing these blooms,” said Andrea LaMoreaux, president of NH Lakes, a nonprofit that represents about 100 local lakes associations.
What these associations really need, LaMoreaux argued, are resources to actually bring the blooms to an end. While other funding sources are available for these projects, she said, the funds are limited and disbursed over such a long timeframe that addressing blooms can take many years.
Natch Greyes, government affairs counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, stressed that cyanobacteria blooms are “clearly a concern for public water supplies,” and added that they would impact “recreational and economic activities, of which (the cities and towns that the Municipal Association represents) are deeply concerned.”
Boyd Smith, president and CEO of the NH Water Works Association, which advocates for New Hampshire water utilities, also highlighted the importance of having funding on-hand to address blooms in water bodies used to supply public drinking water.
New Hampshire waters, “whether for drinking water or for recreation,” Smith said, generate large amounts of revenue for the state. “So as a state, I think it’s well within our moral compass and our budget to take care of something that provides so much to so many.”
The Senate has taken up the House budget bill and must now decide on its own preferred version of the budget by June 8. After that, a Committee of Conference, including representatives of both legislative bodies, will decide on a final budget to send to Sununu’s desk.
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