NH Water Projects Still Wanting for Funds

The $19 million in federal stimulus money soon to be flowing to New Hampshire for drinking water projects leaves another $577 million in drinking water projects unfunded over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“New Hampshire is glad to be getting the federal stimulus money, and the state’s water suppliers were eager to apply for it,” noted Sarah Pillsbury, administrator of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau at N.H. Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), “but we had over $260 million in requests for only $19 million in stimulus money.”

(For DES’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act resources and project lists related to drinking water, visit…http://des.nh.gov/recovery/water_funding.htm).

Pillsbury explained that water supply sources (wells, reservoirs, dams), intake structures, pumps, treatment facilities, storage tanks, and underground water lines all need to be maintained and sometimes periodically replaced.  Much of the water supply infrastructure in New Hampshire’s cities and towns is 50 to 100 years old.

Some is older still, according to John Boisvert, chief engineer with Pennichuck Water Works, and a member of the NH Water Works Association.  “Portsmouth’s and Exeter’s water systems date back to 1797; Manchester’s, Concord’s, Dover’s and Pennichuck’s [serving the Nashua area] date back to the mid-1800s.  In some of these systems, a significant amount of 150 year old pipeline remains in service today,” Boisvert says, “but just because it’s old doesn’t mean that it has to be replaced.”

Well-run water utilities have regular maintenance, rehabilitation and replacement programs to avoid failure of critical components of the water system, Boisvert explains.  All of the water systems mentioned above have ongoing maintenance, repair, and replacement programs, he says.  These programs are capital intensive and managers are very sensitive to their cost and the effects that they may have on their customers.

Are water system operators doing enough to maintain the integrity of the distribution network due to the aging infrastructure?    “In many cases probably not,” says Boisvert.  “Costs drive – and limit – the ability of water systems to do more.  Often when water pipes were first installed they were the only thing in the ground.    If that were still the case, replacement would be less costly.    Water pipes now exist beneath city streets with sewer, drainage, natural gas, steam, electric, cable, and telecommunications infrastructure.  Replacement requires a water utility to work around all these other entities.  Street excavation and reconstruction in some cases cost more than the water pipe that’s being replaced.”

Congress established a Drinking Water State Revolving Fund in 1996 to help finance these kinds of projects, but New Hampshire receives an average of only about $8 million per year, according to Pillsbury.  “At that rate, it would take 72 years to finance the projects that are expected to need funding over the next 20 years.”

Governor John Lynch has proclaimed May 3 – 9, 2009 as Drinking Water Week.

Aging water supply and wastewater infrastructure was identified as one of the state’s top water issues in a recently released DES report that covers a broad range of water resources problems.  The New Hampshire Water Resources Primer is available from DES at 271-2975 and at www.des.nh.gov look under “Hot Topics.”  The Primer is also the subject of a series of public meetings currently being held throughout the state; a schedule of meetings is available at http://m1e.net/c?94975219-E72iM.47hffhc%404217446-bhXgVdwS2djOU

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