State finds Belknap County communities need to spend $51.8 million on sewer & stormwater infrastructure

CONCORD — Although sewer lines, storm drains and treatment plants are largely out of sight, they are not out of mind. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) estimates that an investment of $1.71-billion is required to repair, replace and expand the pipes that carry sewage and stormwater, along with wastewater treatment plants, in cities and towns across the state.
Paul Heirtzler, administrator of wastewater engineering at DES, said that the agency conducts a Clean Watershed Needs Survey every four years years. In 2012 , DES found that since 2004 the necessary investment had doubled, in part because municipalities turned to austere budgeting as the state transferred expenses and withheld revenues amid the recession.
In current dollars, the $1.71-billion represents about the same amount initially invested to comply with the Clean Water Act when it was enacted in 1972.
DES estimates the total investment needed by the eleven municipalities of Belknap County at $51.8 million. Together Laconia with $13,336,435 and Meredith with $20,360,258 account for 65-percent of the total, with new sewers representing most of the projected expense.
The amounts for the remaining towns are $1,612,201 for Alton, $1,083,195 for Barnstead, $2,258,354 for Belmont, $1,813210 for Center Harbor, $5,216,386 for Gilford, $1,453,967 for Gilmanton,$928,580 for New Hampton, $819,423 for Sanbornton and $2,929,004 for Tilton.
In addition, Laconia and six towns in the county (Center Harbor, Belmont, Gilford, Meredith, Sanbornton and Tilton) belong to the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program, the state-owned sewer system serving the Lakes Region, where investments of $54.6-million are projected. Begun in the 1970s, the program cost $75-million to complete, with the federal government contributing 75-percent, the state government 20-percent and the ten municipalities the remainder. Now the operating costs and debt service are born solely by the member municipalities based on their respective share of the flow.
Heirtzler said that in the wake of the Clean Water Act, federal funding for wastewater and stormwater treatment was plentiful, but it has since dried up. Likewise, in 2008, the state withheld grants that fund 20-percent of construction costs. Although there is money in the 2013-2014 budget adopted by the House of Representatives to fund 127 projects built since 2008, there is no provision to sustain funding beyond 2015.