PREP Publications


The Great Bay Estuary is 21 square miles of tidal waters located in southeastern New Hampshire. It is one of 28 “estuaries of national significance” established under the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program. The estuary is experiencing the signs of eutrophication, specifically, low dissolved oxygen, macroalgae blooms, and declining eelgrass habitat (DES, 2012).

Sixty-eight percent of the nitrogen that ends up in the Great Bay Estuary originates from sources spread across the watershed; the remainder derives from direct discharges of municipal wastewater treatment facilities (DES, 2010; PREP, 2013). In this report, these sources of nitrogen are called non-point sources and consist of atmospheric deposition, fertilizers, human waste disposed into septic systems, and animal waste. The purpose of this study is to determine how much nitrogen each non-point source type contributes to the estuary. The nitrogen loads from municipal wastewater treatment facilities have been reported elsewhere (DES, 2010; PREP, 2012; PREP, 2013) and, therefore, are not included in this study except to provide context.

The intended use of this study is for planning purposes, and is not meant for regulatory allocations or specific reduction requirements. The results of the model may be useful for towns or watershed groups for prioritizing nitrogen reduction efforts or as a starting point for more detailed studies of non-point sources. However, more detailed inventories of non-point sources will be needed to track the effects of nitrogen reduction efforts in smaller areas. In addition, the model makes no conclusions about the benefits of nitrogen reductions to receiving waters or overall estuarine health.

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