'A huge security blanket': Portsmouth and Dover plan emergency water line across General Sullivan Bridge

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Portsmouth and Dover are one step closer to establishing a public water interconnection system that could provide water from one city to the other in the case of an emergency.

“I think on a daily basis people really take the availability of safe drinking water for granted,” said John Storer, the Community Services department director for the city of Dover. “We just want to be prepared for the future. This allows us to be ready if God forbid a municipality had a water emergency. This would give both Portsmouth and Dover a way to have access to safe water.”

Storer’s comments came after the New Hampshire Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Advisory Commission recently voted to pay as much as $223,000 for the design of a Portsmouth-Dover emergency public water system interconnection.

This rendering from a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement shows a plan for replacement of the General Sullivan Bridge to maintain pedestrian and bicycle access over Little Bay. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and granted permission for Portsmouth and Dover to use the new bridge for an emergency water connection.
This rendering from a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement shows a plan for replacement of the General Sullivan Bridge to maintain pedestrian and bicycle access over Little Bay. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation and granted permission for Portsmouth and Dover to use the new bridge for an emergency water connection.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation has agreed to allow the cities to use the replacement General Sullivan pedestrian bridge that’s now under design to place a water line that would connect the two city’s water systems. NHDOT has estimated construction of the new bridge could start in fall 2023 or winter 2024.

The old General Sullivan Bridge, connecting Dover and Newington, was used for bicyclists and pedestrians in its final years before being closed in 2018 due to its deteriorating condition.

What would project cost, where will funds come from and why is it needed?

Storer estimated the cost for the project could run between $4 million and $8 million.

“It’s not going to be insignificant, it could be pretty substantial. It’s not going to be inexpensive to suspend a waterline on the underside of the bridge,” he said. “But we truly consider this a project of regional importance, it could feed water in a time of crisis to the other communities around as well."

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Officials from both cities have stressed since beginning discussions on the project that they would seek federal or state grant monies to complete the project.

Storer believes the project could qualify for federal infrastructure funds because of its regional impact.

“The Seacoast is not flush with an overabundance of water supplies. We’re maintaining the water supplies we have and the emergency interconnection would eliminate the last big geographic boundary we have, which is across the General Sullivan Bridge,” Storer said.

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“There’s nothing linking us to Portsmouth now. It would be a huge, huge security blanket,” he added. “If something major happened, it would allow both Dover and Portsmouth to rely on a baseline source of water.”

Brian Goetz, Portsmouth’s deputy director of public works, said the interconnection line could be needed for major water main breaks, major fires, drought or the contamination of a water source.

“This is not for development or for selling water, this line would be used only to deal with emergencies, when a water supply is lost or contaminated,” Goetz said.

He too stressed the regional importance of the project, saying if the line is built; it could be used by Portsmouth to help communities to its south and Dover to assist towns to its north in the event of an emergency.

“DES (the state Department of Environmental Services) did a study going back 15 years that looked at the importance of water system interconnections,” Goetz said. “This was highlighted as one of the key pipe connections if there was a need for an emergency water supply.”

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He estimated that design work for the project could take about a year and a half to complete.

“Once the design work is completed we’ll be better able to determine how much money will be needed and we’ll see what type of funding sources are out there,” Goetz said.

The system will involve more than just running a water line, Goetz said.

“To get water from Dover to Portsmouth, they have higher pressure than us so it could involve opening a valve and controlling the flow,” he said. “To get it the other way requires a pump and a pumping station.”

The Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund Advisory Commission is a 19-member public body created by the NH Legislature that includes representatives of five state agencies, members of the NH House of Representatives and NH Senate, municipal officials and members of the public.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Portsmouth, Dover plan emergency water line via Gen. Sullivan Bridge

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