State-Owned Fish Hatchery Ordered to Reduce Pollution

A settlement directs the facility to reduce phosphorus discharges into a nearby river.

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The Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced an agreement with the State of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The agreement will require the Powder Mill State Fish Hatchery (the Hatchery) in New Durham, New Hampshire, the state’s largest fish hatchery, to take action to reduce phosphorus in its discharges to the Merrymeeting River, comply with a federal Clean Water Act permit and study downstream water quality.

The Hatchery is owned by the state and operated by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. CLF sued officials of the Fish and Game Department in 2018 under the citizen-suit provisions of the Clean Water Act, alleging, among other claims, violations of the federal permit’s narrative prohibition against water quality violations caused by its phosphorus discharges and, in an amended complaint, violations of the reissued permit’s numeric phosphorus limits. The United States, on behalf of EPA, filed a motion to intervene in the CLF action, filed its own complaint against the State of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and lodged a proposed consent decree signed by all parties. If entered by the court, the consent decree would resolve the claims of both the United States and CLF.

“This settlement demonstrates that the Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency are committed to addressing risks to water quality in our nation’s rivers and streams,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will lead to significant reductions in phosphorus discharges to the Merrymeeting River and downstream ponds and help reduce risks to anyone fishing or coming into contact with these waters.”

“Harmful algal blooms in New England waters have been increasing in recent years and need to be addressed in order to protect human health and the environment,” said Regional Administrator David Cash of EPA’s New England Office. “This settlement not only requires the Powder Mill Hatchery to reduce phosphorus discharges that contribute to such blooms but also requires steps to be taken to address the phosphorus that has accumulated in downstream sediments over the years.”

Under the proposed settlement, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department must make upgrades to the Hatchery, including constructing new wastewater treatment systems and reconfiguring the facility’s tanks to promote the settling of solids containing phosphorus, in order to increase phosphorus removal and meet permit limits by Dec. 31, 2025. The Fish and Game Department will also implement best management practices to reduce the phosphorus discharged from the Hatchery in the interim, including adding a neutralizing agent, reconfiguring facility tanks to promote the settling of solids containing phosphorus, and increasing the frequency of removal of these solids.

In addition, the consent decree requires the Fish and Game Department to conduct a water quality assessment in downstream waters and study options for remediating the harmful effects of accumulated phosphorus pollution in the river and sediments. EPA, CLF and the Fish and Game Department will then enter into further negotiations on the implementation of any necessary remediation.

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