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Dam hearing airs concerns over Winona, Waukewan water levels


July 07, 2010
MEREDITH — Emotions were high but civility reigned as residents on both sides of the water-level issue for Lakes Winona and Waukewan made their cases at a public hearing before state officials.

Officials from the Department of Environmental Services, Department of Safety Services, Fish and Game and the Bureau of Dams were present at the meeting as were Sen. Deb Reynolds and Reps. Fran Wendleboe, Kate Miller, and Stephen Nedeau. Executive Councilor Ray Burton moderated the meeting.

Last year the Department of Environmental Services held preliminary hearings with homeowners along the two lakes to listen to their concerns over water levels being too high and causing property damage. The Dam Bureau then implemented an interim operations plan to maintain water levels at 539.5 feet from April until November and hopefully alleviate their problems.

Since that time other residents have become concerned that the lake is now too low, causing a different set of problems for property owners.

At last Tuesday night's hearing, many complained of "mud flats" where they once had a beach and some had deeper concerns for their wells, which were now rendered inadequate.

"I have a dug well that has less than a foot of water in it now. We can't take more than one shower a day and we can't even flush the toilet as we need to," said Brian Bedard of Bonnie Shores in Meredith.

Some complained of a foul smell emanating from the mud along the lakeshore and others were concerned about wildlife not having adequate nesting and feeding grounds. Docks are no longer capable of accommodating larger boats and others expressed difficulty in maneuvering their trailers at the boat launch. At issue for many was the fact that water levels typically go down later in the summer with warm temperatures and lesser rainfall amounts in late July and August.

"We're seeing conditions like that now and we're just through May and June," said Mary Walker, who lives along Lake Winona.

On the other side were those who support the interim plan and hope that DES and the Dam Bureau will stick with the 539.5-foot water level. Jeanette Rosenburger of Waukewan Road told the panel she felt the water level was where it should be. She pointed out that the state controls the water, not the towns and that many of those behind the fight to raise the level back up to 540 feet or more were boat owners who wished to navigate more of the lakes than the current level allows. As for complaints about rocks cropping up and dangerous boating conditions, Rosenburger questioned if they had taken boater safety courses.

"Just slow down and stay 130 feet from the shoreline," she said.

Many advocates for the 539.5 level said higher water had been damaging their property and they were happy to have dry lawns once more. Several stated that wave action was eroding their shoreline and damaging retaining walls, boathouses and docks.

Bob Wenstraub stood up to speak to the issue as being one of "social" concern when in fact it should be more about the environment of the lakes. Pollutants, such as phosphates, entering the lake will cause greater concerns than water levels; people just need time to adapt to the new levels. This was echoed by others who said the higher water levels flooded their septic systems and brought pollutants into the lake.

More than 40 people on both sides had their say as the panel listened and accepted written copies of their statements along with data home owners had collected and photos to make their points known to DES. Afterward the panelists each took a moment to speak to the large crowd on hand for the hearing.

Don Miller, a fish biologist for the state, addressed concerns voiced by some Meredith residents who had observed fewer white perch in the canal along Water Street this year. Miller acknowledged that water levels could have a temporary affect on the fish but it was not permanent.

"The fish adapt to the water level changes and will find a way to persevere," he said.

DES did agree to look at a culvert that clogs with silt and other debris, preventing water from flowing freely out of the Snake River into Lake Waukewan. The culvert has had a history of backing up water in Lake Winona, where many of the high water problems have occurred. A heavy rain rapidly fills the storage area of Winona and it was stated that proper drainage into Waukewan is needed to prevent greater damage along the shoreline.

DES Commissioner Tom Burack said he appreciated the opinions of all who spoke that evening and their input would be helpful in determining a final operational plan for the two lakes. He said he had done a lot of research through the Meredith Historical Society on lake levels over the years, but conceded, "I don't have the depth and breadth of your years on these lakes."

Besides the challenge of listening to everyone with "dignity and respect" Burack said the goal of DES and the Dam Bureau is to gather all the information they can through this trial period before making a final determination. That decision, he said, would not come until early in 2011.

Burack invited residents to return for a second hearing with state officials in August, at which time they would have had most of the summer to observe the consequences and benefits of the current water level and report back to the panel. The hearing will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 6 p.m. in the Church Landing conference room on Route 3 in Meredith.

In the meantime Burack asked that property owners on Lakes Winona and Waukewan who wish to contact his department with concerns, photographs and other materials do so by mailing them to N.H. DES at P.O. Box 95 Concord, N.H. 03302.

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