By Doug Ireland
---- — The state Department of Environmental Services is offering $2.2 million in grants to protect drinking water supplies in Southern New Hampshire towns along Interstate 93.
These towns include Salem, Windham, Derry and Londonderry, where the use of salt over the years on icy parking lots and roads, especially I-93, has affected wetlands and streams, according to Eric Williams, supervisor of DES watershed assistance section.
That’s why the state is giving towns and nonprofit land trusts the opportunity to apply for money to minimize the negative impact on the environment, he said.
“What we are after is efficiency in salt use,” Williams said.
The money, provided to the state through the federal government, comes from a fund established to help reduce the impact of the I-93 project on streams and wetlands. The matching grant program covers up to 25 percent of the value of land or conservation easements to protect drinking water supplies.
Local communities have benefited tremendously from the program over the years, receiving thousands of dollars that’s been spent to help the towns and the environment, DES grant coordinator Holly Green said.
Windham Town Administrator David Sullivan said the town has taken advantage of state grants through this program and others in the last few years to purchase conservation easements, as well as two dump trucks and salting-spreading equipment. The town is applying for money for a third truck, he said.
The new equipment is calibrated to reduce salt use, which also saves the town money.
Sullivan said the town is working with the state Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of salt spread each winter along I-93 and Route 111.
“It’s historically been a problem,” he said of the salt’s impact on water. “But they are doing what they can to mitigate it as much as possible.”
Williams said the DOT has reduced its salt usage by at least 20 percent since the program began nearly a decade ago.
Salem received nearly $200,000 from the state this year to buy two new dump trucks and salt-spreading equipment, Town Manager Keith Hickey said.
“It’s a nice benefit to be able to take advantage of the grants,” he said. “It will allow us to save some money and reduce the effect on the environment. We are happy to participate. “
Two bodies of water particularly vulnerable to salt-contaminated runoff from I-93 are Canobie Lake and Cobbetts Pond.
Derek Monson of Windham, a leader of the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association, has said the I-93 project has created problems with stormwater runoff.
He said offering grant money to communities and land trusts would be beneficial.
“I think it’s a good start, but there’s a long way to go,” he said. “Every bit helps.”
The deadline to apply for the money is Dec. 13.