Sep. 9—CONCORD — New Hampshire has agreed to build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant at the state-operated Powder Mill fish hatchery, which has polluted the Merrymeeting River for years.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), which sued the state Fish and Game Department over the hatchery four years ago, announced that it has entered into a consent decree with Fish and Game and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the pollution.
"This is a big win," said Tom Irwin, vice president of CLF for New Hampshire. "The state has to dramatically reduce the total phosphorus going into the river."
The hatchery is New Hampshire's largest and located in the town of New Durham. The excrement-loaded wastewater discharges into the Merrymeeting River, which flows into Lake Winnipesaukee at Alton Bay.
CLF has been battling the Fish and Game Department for years in federal court over the plant and the damage it has done to the river. The EPA filed the consent decree upon intervention into the lawsuit.
Irwin said the decree gives New Hampshire Fish and Game until Dec. 31, 2025, to begin operations of a treatment plant that complies with the federal Clean Water Act. Scott Mason, the executive director of Fish and Game, has said a plant could cost $85 million.
The state has already hired a consultant to begin plans for the plant.
"It will certainly cost millions of dollars. How many millions, I don't know," he said. New Hampshire has already devoted $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to build two new fish hatcheries.
The consent decree also calls upon Fish and Game to address the impacts of the phosphorous already deposited into the river and prepare options for clean up.
A telephone message left for Mason was not immediately returned. Attorney General John Formella, whose office defended Fish and Game in the suit, issued a statement.
"The announcement of a negotiated consent decree with the United States memorializes the State of New Hampshire's commitment to continue its significant progress over the last several years to reduce phosphorus discharges at the Powder Mill Fish Hatchery and achieve compliance with its lowest-in-the-nation phosphorus concentration limit imposed by EPA in late 2020 to protect water quality in the Merrymeeting River," the statement reads.