One regulatory tool for local management of potential threats is a health regulation or health ordinance. The state law that describes the powers of local health officers provides the authority to enact regulations.
Some New Hampshire towns and cities have adopted health regulations which require businesses that handle significant quantities (more than typically found in a home) of hazardous substances to implement management practices which prevent the occurrence of groundwater contamination. Proper procedures are specified in the DES Best Management Practices (BMP) rules, which can be applied locally through a health regulation.
Local health regulations typically provide the local health officer with authority to inspect handling practices for hazardous substances at certain types of businesses. In some communities, the regulations provide the authority to some other local official such as a water department employee, fire official, code enforcement officer, or building inspector.
The purpose of inspections is not to catch business owners who are not following the rules. The purpose is to educate business owners about the right practices and to make sure they are following them. If business owners refuse to cooperate after repeated requests, the municipal official may take enforcement action to protect the public's interest in clean drinking water.
One of the drawbacks of health regulations is that local funds may be needed if enforcement actions become necessary. Health ordinances, which are similar to health regulations but require passage by the local legislative body, enable municipalities to raise money through permit fees.
New Hampshire's Drinking Water Source Protection Program, in conjunction with the NH Office of Energy and Planning, has prepared a guide for the development and use of health ordinances to protect groundwater. The guide includes a sample health ordinance that can be adapted for local use. For more information call DES at 271-7061.