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UNH-Driven Water Protection Program Wins National Water Prize

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A drinking water-protection project led by UNH’s Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership (PREP) was awarded the 2012 U.S. Water Prize by The Clean Water America Alliance. The prize, one of just six nationwide, went to the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative, an ambitious inter-state effort to protect drinking water supplies for more than 28,000 residents in Maine and New Hampshire.

Conceived through the efforts of the drinking water protection programs in both Maine and New Hampshire, the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative brought together natural resource experts, municipalities, land trusts, and local water districts and developed an action plan to protect clean drinking water for current and future generations.

“We are delighted by this award and proud of the work so many residents, municipal officials, and other key stakeholders have done and will continue to do into the future to ensure clean water for the Salmon Falls watershed residents and ecosystem,” said PREP executive director Rachel Rouillard in a joint statement with Andrew Tolman from the Maine Center for Disease Control’s Drinking Water Program. PREP, a conservation organization with a mission to maintain and restore the health of the Great Bay estuary across state borders, serves as the lead convener for the Collaborative.

The Salmon Falls River watershed drains an area of 232.5 square miles that includes portions of 10 towns in New Hampshire and eight towns in Maine. The Salmon Falls River, the water source for Berwick, Maine and Somersworth, N.H., is the largest river system contributing to the Great Bay estuary. It was recently identified by the U.S. Forest Service as being the most threatened in the nation with regard to a potential decline in water quality due to conversion of private forested lands to housing.

The selection of the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative for the U.S. Water Prize highlights the importance of inter-jurisdictional partnerships to protect and sustain drinking water supplies. The collaborative unites to protect forests, champion smarter development approaches, and reduce water pollution from existing and future land development. The award to the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative and five other organizations will be made on April 23, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Other partners in the Salmon Falls Watershed Collaborative include the Wells and Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserves, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Maine Rural Water Association, Granite State Rural Water Association,  South Berwick and Berwick water districts, City of Somersworth, Maine Non-point Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO), Strafford Regional Planning Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, York County SWCD, Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance, and five land trust organizations.

To learn more about the Salmon Falls Collaborative or view the group’s action plan, go to http://www.prep.unh.edu/sfwc.htm.