Transcending Times in the Drinking Water Industry in New Hampshire

January 23, 2024

Operating public water systems has always been incredibly complex and is often taken for granted by the general public. Obtaining public support to fund routine operations, improvements for aging infrastructure, public communication when occasional water quality issues arise and ensuring water systems reliably provide an adequate quantity and quality of water has always been a tall order but drinking water professionals have met the challenge.

The last seven years have marked several new and unprecedented challenges and opportunities for all aspects of the drinking water sector in New Hampshire, including:


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have contaminated hundreds of drinking water sources for public water systems and thousands of private wells throughout the state, especially in the southern population centers. The contamination is requiring hundreds of millions of dollars to eliminate exposure to PFAS in drinking water and has caused incredible stress and concerns.


All aspects of the drinking water sector were dramatically impacted by COVID-19. Social distancing policies required that staff work remotely when possible or in staggered shifts to avoid disease transmission. Depending on the water system, there were increases or decreases in water demand based on government-directed shutdowns, creating a financial crisis for some water systems. Obtaining personal protection equipment to protect the industry’s essential workers against the disease or even gloves for collecting water samples was a struggle. Procuring products to operate water systems such as treatment chemicals or plumbing materials became problematic because of the impact of COVID-19 on manufacturing facilities and supply chains.

Climate Change

The effects of climate change on drinking water systems have never been more apparent than in the last several years. More intense and frequent extreme rain events increase contamination of drinking water supplies. Well water is impacted by increased bacteria, while surface waters experience increased turbidity and nutrients, which create ideal conditions for the development of harmful algal blooms. Additionally, frequent droughts over the last several years have strained the availability of water supplies. On the flip side, flooding has damaged drinking water infrastructure. The sea level elevation is increasing, which is causing groundwater to rise in the coastal region threatening even more flooding and other damage to infrastructure.

Lead and Copper Rule

USEPA is finalizing the Lead and Copper Rule Improvement requirements. These new regulations will be one of the most costly and complex for New Hampshire to establish and administer in the history of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. By October 16, 2024, water systems and NHDES must:

  • Complete an analysis of every service line connecting structures to a water supply main.
  • Establish an inventory of all service lines that contain lead or that are made of unknown materials.

There are hundreds of thousands of service lines in New Hampshire. In January 2025, water systems and NHDES must develop and utilize new sampling sites for lead and copper using the new service line inventory information and, when there are exceedances of the action level for lead, they must substantially increase public notification requirements. USEPA has also proposed lowering the action level for lead in drinking water to 10 parts per billion (ppb). The current action level is 15 ppb. To assist with replacing lead service lines, the federal government will be making approximately $150 million available to New Hampshire for low interest loans that includes 49% principal forgiveness.


Cyanobacteria blooms have become commonplace in New Hampshire’s surface water bodies that are used as sources of drinking water. Increased temperatures, increased land development and run-off from extreme precipitation events have created ideal conditions for blooms to occur, which creates significant concerns for cyanotoxins. As of July 2023, cyanobacteria blooms have occurred in six sources of drinking water in New Hampshire, including one bloom located right at an intake of a drinking water source. NHDES and water systems have responded by working collaboratively, and in some cases seven days a week, to monitor for blooms and test the water for toxins.

Workforce, Economic and Supply Chain Challenges

Inflation, supply chain issues and a shrinking labor market have brought extraordinary stress on water systems throughout the state after the peak of COVID-19. Storm events, fires, labor shortages and breakdowns in the transportation industry have caused significant disruption in the availability of water treatment chemicals. Shutdowns in production during COVID-19, international trade disputes, labor shortages and a surge in demand has created a global iron and steel shortage. Before COVID-19, the water sector was experiencing an aging workforce and labor shortage. The shortage has intensified since the peak of COVID-19 as many professionals retired. This has required many in the water sector to work extended hours for prolonged periods of time.

A welcomed surge in federal funding for water infrastructure has increased available funding temporarily by over 700%. However, this has come at a time when inflation, supply chain issues, labor shortages and new federal requirements requiring construction materials be made in the United States are making new water infrastructure projects very costly and complex to undertake, causing project delays.

Housing Shortage/Shifts in Housing Occupancy

There is a housing shortage throughout New Hampshire. Local planning boards have reviewed a large number of new housing developments. While many of the developments meet local land use planning requirements, there have been several instances where the community water system has not been engaged in the planning process and developments have stalled due to the water system having insufficient capacity to support new developments approved by the local planning boards.

Some existing domestic water systems that have been used only seasonally for decades are transitioning to increased occupancy as the homes are either being used for vacation rentals or are becoming full-time residences. The increased utilization of these homes in some cases is overwhelming existing drinking water and wastewater systems that lack the necessary financial or technical resources, or in some cases access to additional land to make the necessary improvements.


After 9/11, water systems took measures to increase the physical security of their systems. There has been a significant rise in cybersecurity crimes in the past several years with critical infrastructure such as water utilities being targeted. Elsewhere in the nation, breaches in cybersecurity practices have compromised the ability of drinking water systems to provide clean and safe drinking water and have created health and safety concerns, a loss in customer confidence and financial and legal liabilities. NHDES has been working with the Federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to complete on-site cybersecurity assessments for all large community water systems. To assist in addressing identified deficiencies, NHDES is providing up to $50,000 in grant funding to water systems. For smaller water systems, NHDES is working with systems to determine which ones have technology that could be impacted by a cyberattack and identify vulnerabilities that need to be addressed.

New Hampshire is responding to these unprecedented challenges. In addition to the work above, NHDES and water systems are informing residents and policy makers at all levels. Elected officials at the local, state and federal level are engaged in these issues and have provided policies and financial resources needed to respond to this transcending period in the drinking water sector. Drinking water professionals have committed themselves to working longer hours, increasing efficiencies and increasing their capacity to complete their work. Their dedication to the public that they serve is very much appreciated and is the reason we continue to have safe drinking water in New Hampshire.

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