IV. Summary and Recommendations
As it flows through the towns of Carroll, Harts Location, Bartlett, and Conway, the Saco River supports a variety of significant state and local resources. To better protect and manage these resources, the Department of Environmental Services recommends the following actions:
Recommendation 1: The General Court should adopt legislation which designates the mainstem of the Saco River Into the Rivers Management and Protection Program and classifies the Saco River as a "Natural River" from the base of the dam at Saco Lake to the Harts Location-Bartlett town line and as a "Rural River" from the Harts Location-Bartlett town line to the Maine border.
Under the provisions of the protection measure amendments to RSA Ch. 483, a designation will provide increased protection for the river against new dam construction, damaging channel alterations, water quality impairment, and the siting of hazardous and solid waste facilities in the river corridor. A designation will also require the establishment of protected instream flow levels to maintain the minimum amount of water in the river that is necessary to safeguard public trust resources, including fisheries, water quality, recreation, and scenic values. A Local River Management Advisory Committee will be established to coordinate local issues related to the protection and management of the river and will provide local residents with a direct. avenue for formal input to state decisions that affect the river. Finally, a designation will result in the development of a long-range management plan for the river that coordinates state planning and management of fisheries, water quality and quantity, and recreation.
The portion of the Saco River that flows through the towns of Carroll and Harts Location is being recommended for a "Natural River" classification. Under the protection measure amendments to RSA Ch. 483, natural river are defined as "free-flowing rivers or segments characterized by the high quality of natural and scenic resources. River shorelines are in primarily natural vegetation and river corridors are generally undeveloped. Development, if any, is limited to forest management and scattered housing." In the towns of Carroll and Harts Location, the Saco River meets this definition. The New Hampshire portion of the Saco River is free-flowing. Two minor dams on the upper portion of the river do not affect the natural flow characteristics of the river: a small dam maintains the level of Saco Lake and a few miles downstream a small dam near the Willey House in Crawford Notch State Park forms a reflecting pond during the summer months. The location of the river within the White Mountain National Forest ensures the continued presence of a high quality natural and scenic resource and a generally undeveloped river corridor on the upper Saco River. As stated earlier, there are privately-owned lands along the river in Harts Location and some property owners have expressed concerns that a Natural River classification will prohibit channel alterations which may prevent erosion of their property, particularly during storm events. The Department of Environmental Services has given careful consideration to these concerns and has determined that the outstanding public resources of the Saco River in Harts Location warrant a Natural River classification.
In Bartlett and Conway, a "Rural River" classification is recommended for the Saco River. Under the protection measure amendments to RSA Ch. 483, rural rivers are "those river or segments adjacent to lands which are partially or predominantly used for agriculture, forest management, and dispersed or clustered residential housing. Some instream structures may exist, including low dams, diversion works, or other minor modifications." As the Saco River flows through Bartlett and into the floodplains of Conway, the river clearly meets the definition of a Rural River.
The designation of the Saco River as both a "Natural" and "Rural" River under the Rivers Management and Protection Program will clearly express the intent of the General Court with regard to the protection and management of the river and will focus attention on the river as a natural resource of both statewide and local significance. This attention will help to insure greater scrutiny of plans and proposals which have the potential to significantly alter or destroy those river values and characteristics which qualify the river for designation.
Recommendation 2: The towns of Carroll, Harts Location, Bartlett, and Conway should continue to work toward the protection of the Saco River through the adoption of local river corridor management plans, including comprehensive shoreland protection ordinances.
While a state designation will improve the protection and management of the river itself, continuing local efforts will be needed to address the use and conservation of the river corridor. A growing recognition by local citizens of the Saco River's valuable contribution to the overall quality of life in the Mt. Washington Valley is evidenced by their desire to see it designated into the state program. Citizen appreciation and concern for the river should be reflected in the decisions and actions of local government officials. Upon request, the Department of Environmental Services will provide technical assistance to any of the communities along the Saco River on the development of local river corridor management plans, including comprehensive shoreland protection ordinances.
In summary, the establishment of a clear policy and specific instream protection measures by the General Court, and a continuing commitment by local governments and residents to protect and manage the river corridor through sound land use decisions will ensure that the outstanding resources of the Saco River will "endure as part of the river uses to be enjoyed by New Hampshire people."