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Water Regulation Coming To The Forefront

Written by: Gregory H. Smith

About a decade ago, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services took the first step in regulating water consumption. The rules then required reporting consumption of more than 20,000 gallons of water a day to the State. If Senate Bill 374 is adopted, it will regulate all new groundwater withdrawals of 57,600 gallons or more in any 24-hour period. Prior to withdrawal, notification is required to the DES and the municipalities where the well is located or where a hydraulic zone of contribution to the well is anticipated.

Under this legislation, the DES will be authorized to adopt regulations to identify the impacts of withdrawal on surface waters; sub-surface waters; water-related natural resources; and public, private, residential and farm wells within the anticipated zone of contribution to withdrawal. The DES also will be authorized to adopt rules defining the conservation management plans, which demonstrate the need for the proposed withdrawals. Rules may also establish procedures by which the DES may reduce or deny permission for withdrawal, or may require a provision for alternative water supplies at no cost to those whose wells may be adversely affected by the proposed withdrawal.

This legislation is the latest step in State policy to identify and protect the State's water resources. At both the technical and regulatory levels, efforts have been underway since the 1980s to more carefully identify the State's underground aquifers and new legislation has been adopted and implemented to protect those aquifer zones. While New Hampshire certainly is not among those regions of the world experiencing sever shortages or significant adverse effects of competing demand for water resources, in the third decade of environmental regulation, we are moving distinctly from controlling pollution, to protecting clean water resources. There are broader policy considerations here. As is often the case, State policy, adopted formally in legislation and rules, is reflective of developments in the private sector. Across the board, environmental protection necessarily involves the conservation of resources and reuse of wastes. Public and private sector initiatives are promoting sustainable development. That concept manifests itself in everything from Brownfields initiatives to Eco-Industrial Parks.

Londonderry, for example, is developing an Eco-Industrial Park, which will seek to conserve resources and maximize the reuse of wastes among the various companies which are located at the park, with direct benefits for environmental protection.

Until recently, we have certainly not thought of water as a scarce resource. As the State moves to regulate water, it will be important to balance ancient private rights of property owners to make reasonable use of surface and groundwaters adjoining their property. The laws of public taking of private rights which requires compensation, will be involved. These are important issues which are generating significant policy development in which we will all need to participate.

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