PLYMOUTH — New Hampshire needs to revitalize its water system infrastructure over the next decade or it faces a crisis affecting the state's economy. That according to John Gilbert, chairman of the N.H. Water Council, who spoke at Plymouth State University's New Hampshire Water and Watershed Conference March 21. Gilbert reported that it will cost $2.9 billion over ten years to repair the state's aging and overburdened waste and storm water treatment plants, potable water utilities and underground piping. He believes inaction will create major problems.
"It is difficult to predict what would precipitate a water crisis," Gilbert said. "Maybe the southeast corner of the state could stop development because there is not enough water, or the Boston Metro area may need more water than the Quabbin Reservoir can provide and propose a big pipeline to get their water from the North Country. We don't want to say the sky is falling, but we're already seeing problems and they will get much worse within ten years. We need to start chipping away at this."
Gilbert is also a member of New Hampshire Lives on Water Project, a group of volunteers that is trying to build a coalition of citizens to advocate for maintaining long term sustainability of the water resources. Gilbert believes citizen advocates are crucial in moving the state toward sustained attention to addressing the problem, because of the short-term focus of the political system.
"I think it's unlikely the legislature will embrace this in the first instance, which is why we talk about needing develop a very broad based constituency that keeps pushing the legislature forward," Gilbert said. "I like the idea of trusting the public because they've shown remarkably sophisticated understanding when they've been given the background information; the public is going to have to lead the legislature on this."
Gilbert also said recent changes in severe weather show New Hampshire's storm water systems need upgrading, and doing so could actually save money because it could prevent costly property damage, like road and bridge washouts.
The New Hampshire Water Infrastructure Funding Commission recently released a report with suggestions on funding water related projects.
Dr. Joseph Boyer, Director of Plymouth State's Center for the Environment, said the institution will work with state officials in finding solutions to water concerns.
"We expect the Center for the Environment will continue to act as a resource in facilitating future public policy development and water issues," Boyer said. "We would like to thank all of the conference participants for their continued commitment to this important topic."
The day-long conference at PSU featured more than 40 talks addressing current water related research as well as effective strategies at the local, regional, state, and federal levels about changing environmental and societal conditions and their effects on New Hampshire's water resources and aquatic environment. Specific topics included watershed planning, restoration, and management; education and outreach; ecosystem services of lakes, rivers, and watersheds; coordinating a response to climate change; and water quality and quantity.