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New initiative could help preserve watershed

December 15, 2010
BRIDGEWATER — A new initiative spearheaded by the state's Department of Environmental Services (DES) generated excitement among those in attendance for last week's status report on the Every Acre Counts Newfound watershed preservation project, hosted by the Newfound Lake Region Association (NLRA).

Addressing the small but enthusiastic crowd at the Newfound Grocery in Bridgewater last Monday evening, Steve Landry — an environmentalist with the DES and member of the Every Acre Counts team — spoke about a new program underway at the agency that could bolster the team's efforts to protect the quality of Newfound Lake's pristine waters.

Of the 15 preservation projects he is currently involved in throughout the state, Landry said that only a sobering three involve high quality watersheds. The rest, he said, are efforts to recover from the devastating effects of phosphorous contamination resulting from unchecked runoff and development.

The phosphorous level in Newfound Lake, he explained, is currently hovering between four and five micrograms per liter — the ideal scenario, and still a far cry from the level of eight micrograms per liter or higher that would prompt the DES to label it an impaired watershed.

As an example of how quickly a watershed can deteriorate under the right set of circumstances, Landry pointed to Lake Winnipesaukee, where the phosphorous level has risen from 4.8 micrograms per liter to an alarming six micrograms per liter over the past 10 years, leaving officials in communities like Meredith scrambling to halt the use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides that infiltrated the lake through runoff, triggering the rapid increase in phosphorous.

Certain parts of Lake Winnipesaukee, he said, are already lost, and are on the verge of being declared impaired by the DES.

Referring to shared watershed planner Steve Whitman's findings — which showed that more than half of the land surrounding Newfound Lake consists of steep slopes composed of highly erode-able soils, and that only 12 or 13 percent of it is currently protected from further development — Landry explained that the Newfound watershed could become a disaster waiting to happen unless steps are taken by the communities that lie within its boundaries to manage future residential and commercial growth wisely.

"This watershed is set up to respond rapidly to poor development practices," he said.

One avenue that the communities surrounding Newfound Lake might want to consider, he explained, would be to petition the DES to grant the watershed a newly created designation — "High Quality Watershed of Special Significance" — which would give it the same status as water bodies found within the White Mountain National Forest and protect it from additional phosphorous loading.

With a "Special Significance" designation in place, Landry said, communities around the lake would have the right to screen any disturbance of the land, large or small, and any large-scale land use changes that could not meet the requirement of no additional phosphorous loading would fall under the purview of a public hearing process overseen by the DES.

Noting that the "Special Significance" designation was just recently implemented by the DES, Landry added that from a personal standpoint, he considered the Newfound watershed worth the effort, and would be thrilled to see it selected as the new program's first test subject.

More information on the "High Quality Watershed of Special Significance" designation will soon be available on the DES Web site, www.des.nh.gov.

Information on the Every Acre Counts Watershed Master Plan — including updates on the implementation of a watershed-wide culvert assessment, a new vegetative swale and catch basins at Bristol's Cummings Beach, water monitoring, and planning efforts — can be found on the NLRA's Web site, www.newfoundlake.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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