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My Turn: Online environmental dashboard keeps tabs on N.H.

As we near Earth Day, April 22, one simple way that you can celebrate is to learn more about New Hampshire’s special environment. I get asked many questions by New Hampshire residents and visitors, but one of the most common and most important is quite straight forward: “How is New Hampshire’s environment doing?” In other words, is our environment doing well? Is it getting better or worse? The full answer to this question could fill volumes, so I am pleased to announce that the state Department of Environmental Services has developed a web-based tool that will make it easy to get a quick answer, and to dig deeper for more answers if you want to.

The Department of Environmental Services manages more than 100 programs related to the health of our air, water and land, all of which delve deep into the complex science of our environment. We certainly know that our environment is better today than it was, say, 40 years ago. Rivers catching fire and smoke stacks spewing pollution are thankfully a thing of the past. That is not to say, however, that we don’t face environmental challenges today.

While perhaps not as “in your face” as the environmental challenges of the past, the environmental challenges of this generation pose just as great a threat to our environment and our health.

To help New Hampshire residents get a sense of the state’s environmental well-being, the Department of Environmental Services has created a web-based New Hampshire Environmental Dashboard, which can be found on our homepage at
des.nh.gov.

The dashboard provides the public with a basic status report on a short list of key environmental indicators, which can be viewed individually or collectively based on the reader’s interest.

These indicators cover the spectrum of environmental topics including air pollution, coastal waters, contaminated property, drinking water, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, waste management, water availability, and wetlands. The discussion of each indicator includes a summary of its current condition along with an evaluation of the current condition or trend represented by either a green button indicating a positive condition or trend, a yellow button for a cautionary condition or trend or a red button for a negative condition or trend.

For example, one of the indicators chosen to represent the health of our lakes, ponds, rivers and streams was beach advisories. Our agency collects water samples at public beaches during the swimming season and tests these samples for fecal bacteria to ensure protection of the public’s health. We issued 68 beach advisories in 2012, fewer advisories than in the three previous summers. On any day at any beach, the chance of an advisory being in effect was never more than 2.3 percent. This indicator, therefore, has a green or positive condition and trend.

More information for each indicator is available by clicking on the indicator, current condition or trend button on the chart.

This information provides a clear, concise explanation of each indicator and information on efforts by the Department of Environmental Services to addresses it through one of our programs or partnership organizations or with our volunteer groups.

While I wish I could say that all of our environmental indicators have a positive trend, that is unfortunately not the case. However, one of our goals of providing this environmental dashboard to the public is that it will help to educate interested residents on the current status of our environment.

This kind of knowledge is valuable to all of us – the Department of Environmental Services, policy-makers, businesses, nonprofit organizations and residents of all ages and walks of life. Equipped with this knowledge, we are all better able to take actions needed to protect our air, waters and land. I encourage you to check out our new environmental dashboard and to provide us with your feedback.

We plan to continuously update and improve the data and information that we provide on the dashboard, so that all of our citizens and visitors can easily learn about the current status of New Hampshire’s environment.

We hope that you will take a look at the dashboard and follow up by joining us on Earth Day and every day to make a positive difference for the beautiful place that we call New Hampshire.

(Thomas Burack is the state commissioner of environmental services.)

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