Portsmouth and Dover are planning an emergency water supply via the Gen Bridge. Sullivan

Portsmouth and Dover are set to establish a public interconnecting water system that could supply water from one city to another in an emergency.

“I think on a day-to-day basis people really take the availability of clean water for granted,” said John Storer, director of the City of Dover’s community services department. “We just want to be ready for the future. This allows us to be ready if God forbid, a municipality had a water emergency. This would give Portsmouth and Dover a way to access clean drinking water.

Storer’s comments came after the New Hampshire Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund advisory board recently voted to pay up to $223,000 for the design of an interconnection of Portsmouth’s emergency public water system- Dover.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation has agreed to allow cities to use the replacement General Sullivan Pedestrian Bridge that is currently being designed to place a water main that would connect the two cities’ water systems. The NHDOT estimated that construction of the new bridge could begin in fall 2023 or winter 2024.

The old General Sullivan Bridge, linking Dover and Newington, was used for cyclists and pedestrians in its final years before being closed in 2018 due to deterioration.

How much would the project cost, where would the funds come from and why are they needed?

Storer estimated the cost of the project could be between $4 million and $8 million.

“It’s not going to be insignificant, it could be quite substantial. It won’t be cheap to hang a water pipe under the bridge,” he said. “But we really consider it to be a project of regional importance, it could also provide water in times of crisis to other surrounding communities.”

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Officials from both cities have stressed from the start of discussions about the project that they would seek federal or state grants to complete the project.

Storer believes the project could qualify for federal infrastructure funding because of its regional impact.

“The Seacoast is not flush with a glut of water supply. We are maintaining the water supplies we have and the emergency interconnection would eliminate the last great geographic boundary we have, which is l across the General Sullivan Bridge,” Storer said.

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“There is nothing that binds us to Portsmouth now. It would be a huge, huge security blanket,” he added. “If something significant happened, it would allow Dover and Portsmouth to rely on a base water source.”

Brian Goetz, Portsmouth’s deputy director of public works, said the interconnection line could be needed in the event of a major water main break, major fire, drought or contamination of a water source .

“It’s not for development or to sell water, this line would only be used to deal with emergencies, when a water supply is lost or contaminated,” Goetz said.

He too underlined the regional importance of the project, saying if the line is built; it could be used by Portsmouth to help communities to the south and Dover to help cities to the north in an emergency.

“DES (the state Department of Environmental Services) did a study going back 15 years that looked at the importance of water system interconnections,” Goetz said. “This was highlighted as one of the main pipe connections if there was a need for an emergency water supply.”

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He estimated that the design work for the project could take about a year and a half.

“Once the design work is done, we’ll be better able to figure out how much money will be needed and see what kind of funding sources are available,” Goetz said.

The system will involve more than just running a water main, Goetz said.

“To get water from Dover to Portsmouth they have a higher pressure than us, so that might involve opening a valve and controlling the flow,” he said. “To get it the other way, you need a pump and a pumping station.”

The Drinking and Groundwater Trust Fund Advisory Commission is a 19-member public body established by the NH Legislature that includes representatives from five state agencies, members of the House of Representatives of NH and NH Senate, city officials and members of the public.

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