RECENT CHANGES TO THE SHORELAND WATER QUALITY PROTECTION ACT

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The Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act (RSA 483-B) is an important safeguard for one of New Hampshire’s most precious and valuable natural resources, our Lakes and smaller bodies of water.  Maintaining water quality is essential in protecting our quality of life, the health of the environment, the natural beauty we are so proud of, and NH’s tourism industry and economy.  Earlier this month, “Senate Bill 30” went into effect.  As part of this bill, a few important changes are taking place regarding the SWQPA.

The most noticeable change will be in calculating the vegetative score of waterfront sites.  In the past, sites were divided into 50’x50’ segments along the length of a parcel’s shoreline.  These sections are scored based on the sizes, quantities, and types of vegetation located within.  For example, a 6”-12” caliper tree is worth 10 points, 15 points for a tree greater than 12”, and there are points per square foot of natural groundcover.   The minimum score to be maintained was 50 points.   The new bill has changed this grid to 50’x25’ and has proportionately decreased the minimum score from 50 to 25.

The “Natural Woodland Buffer,” was defined as the area located between 50’ and 150’ of the Reference Line (mean high water elevation).  The definition has been replaced by two new terms.  The “Woodland Buffer” and “Natural Woodland.” The “Woodland Buffer” is now defined as the area between the reference line and 150’, including the 50’ “Waterfront Buffer”. “Natural Woodland” is defined as “a forested area consisting of various species of trees, saplings, shrubs, and ground covers in any combination and at any stage of growth”. Within the Woodland Buffer between 50’ and 150’, 25% needs to be maintained in an unaltered state or improved with additional vegetation as” Natural Woodland.” Other changes apply more to the administrative policies and do not affect the design or management of the shorefront. 

It is important to remember that even though these changes have gone into effect on the state level, most towns (New London, Newbury, Sunapee, for example) have their requirements for their respective zoning ordinances.  These regulations are often more stringent than the state’s and must be followed. These laws, state or local, are designed to protect our water resources, keeping New Hampshire beautiful and clean.