25 for 25: Why Keeping New Hampshire's Lakes Clean is Worth It
By Thomas S. Burack, DES Commissioner
In recognition of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary, over the course of the year, I will highlight 25 agency activities, programs, projects and accomplishments of the past 25 years. This article, the twelfth in the series, discusses the importance of New Hampshire’s lakes.
Whether you enjoy water sports, boating, relaxing in the sun or taking in the extraordinary water views while driving or hiking, our beautiful lakes provide a quality of life that is unique to New Hampshire. During the summer people travel near and far to enjoy our sparkling lakes. In fact, July has been proclaimed by Governor Lynch as Lakes Appreciation Month, but here at the Department of Environmental Services (DES) we are focused on protecting our lakes all 12 months of the year. Even before DES became New Hampshire’s environmental agency 25 years ago, the staff at one of our predecessor agencies, the Water Supply and Pollution Control Commission, and countless volunteers had been hard at work around the state to ensure that New Hampshire’s lakes would be swimmable, fishable, and generally enjoyable to all.
As the Governor’s proclamation notes, “New Hampshire lakes are invaluable economic resources for Granite State businesses, tourists and municipal governments.” Freshwater recreation, including boating, fishing and swimming, in the Lakes region alone generate approximately $210 million dollars in sales, $74 million in household income, and 3,313 jobs annually (Nordstrom, 2007). Statewide, these number more than triple.
One key to maintaining the economic benefits that are derived from New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds is water clarity, a direct measure of water quality. An increase in water clarity has been proven to increase property values as well as recreational use on a lake, thereby increasing tax base and the number of jobs and revenue produced in relation to these activities.
So how is water clarity in New Hampshire’s lakes? The answer to that question, based on 25 years of monitoring data, is that our lakes are generally in good condition. However, statewide, lake waters are getting less clear at a rate of about 1% per year. Lake clarity is a measure of how far down you can see into a lake, and it can be used to measure changes in a lake over time. Reduced water clarity is usually due to pollution from people’s activities on the land.
The biggest problem facing our lakes today is polluted stormwater runoff. With increases in paved surfaces, roofs and other impervious surfaces, the amount of water that runs over the land, and the rate at which it does, will only increase. This water will pick up whatever it flows over – including soil, pet waste, fertilizers and pesticides, gas, oil or trash – and carry it down hill into lakes and ponds, thereby polluting the water. With reduced vegetated buffers, particularly in the near shore area of these lakes, there is little opportunity for the water to sink into the ground or be filtered by vegetation. Maintaining the existing natural vegetation and the protection of natural vegetated buffers around lakes and ponds is the single most important thing that people can do to protect water quality.
Concerns about unprecedented growth around our lakes in the 1980s led directly to the passage of the Lakes Management and Protection Program in 1990 and the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act in 1991 (recently renamed the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act). Both of these pieces of legislation have helped to protect our lakes. With the passage of the Lakes Management and Protection Act, the Lakes Management Advisory Committee (LMAC) was established. The LMAC, which consists of 19 members, is the only committee of its kind in the state, providing advice and oversight regarding the comprehensive management of the state’s lakes and ponds.
In addition to the state’s efforts, there are hundreds of lake associations that serve as the eyes and ears of their lakes and the lands above these lakes that provide the water to fill them (also know as a “watershed”). Most of what we now know about the water quality and the condition of our lakes comes from our Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP), which was formed in 1985. Hundreds of dedicated VLAP volunteers collect data on 180 lakes each summer looking at the three main indicators of lake health: water clarity, algal growth, and total phosphorus (the nutrient that promotes algal growth). The data from these lakes provide an excellent picture of overall lake quality.
If our lakes are clean and clear, the recreational, social, aesthetic opportunities and the economic activity they afford the state will flourish. It’s been a beautiful summer already on New Hampshire’s lakes and ponds, and here at DES we’re proud to be playing a leading role in protecting our waterbodies to enhance our economy and the long-term viability of the New Hampshire way of life.
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