New Hampshire's Lakes: How Healthy Are They?

Jun 19, 2017

We take a dive into New Hampshire's lakes.  It's hard to overstate the importance of the state's lakes and ponds -- for recreation, tourism, the environment.  But with several water bodies already posted for cyanobacteria, we look at policies and practices  aimed at keeping lakes healthy -- and why they aren't always followed.


GUESTS: 

  • Jason Aube - Shoreland Program Outreach Coordinator with the N.H. DES Wetlands Bureau.
  • James F. Haney  - Professor with the Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Hampshire. He helped establish the state's first lake-monitoring program in 1978, a statewide volunteer effort that has since spawned other groups of volunteers who observe and report on the health of their local lakes.  He also works with the N.H. Agricultural Experiment Station at UNH.
  • Andrea LaMoreaux - Vice president  of the N.H. Lakes Association.
  • David Neils -  Chief water pollution biologist and director of the Jody Connor Limnology Center with N.H. DES.

For the latest beach advisories,  check  N.H. DES and follow @NHDES_Beaches. For guidelines on the state's Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act -- originally called the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act -- visit here.  And, for a great lake story, involving an illegal dock, eventually dismantled by its owner, listen to this Outside/In episode, "Pier Pressure."  

How does what is around a lake impact the health of the lake ecosystem?

Andrea LaMoreaux, Vice President of the N.H. Lakes Association, said that the land around a lake is best when it is forested:

These plants and trees are really good at soaking up any pollution or water run-off off the landscape. But, obviously, we want to be able to be next to the lake too. So, if we're going to have a road, or a property or a home, we want to try and leave some of those shrubbery things on the shore line. . . at a minimum to soak up some of the pollution or the water that might be coming off the landscape. 

 

Jason Haney, a professor of biological sciences at UNH, said the best shrubbery is natural:

 

Natural ground covers, shrubs, sapling, and a mature stand of trees: they serve many purposes, and not only just for soaking up or absorbing nutrients, but they provide a lot of shade over the shoreline. [This] actually helps milfoil not get established as readily.

 

 

What is "public enemy number one" for pollutants in the lake?

David Neils,  the chief water pollution biologist at the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, said storm water is a big concern:

We worry a lot about storm water and everything that's in storm water. Salt is obviously a hot topic we deal with on a regular basis. We see conductivity, which is a measure of the amount of salt in the water, increasing around the state in our lakes, ponds, and rivers. 

Neils also said that conductivity in the lakes can come from any chemical that has a charge, but a lot comes from salting the roads during the winter. According to Neils, people apply too much salt, which negatively impacts aquatic life. 

Cyanobacteria has been found in some lakes. What is cyanobacteria, and how does it impact water ecology?

According to Neils, cyanobacteria is an algae that can produce a toxin that can be harmful to humans and pets. Although this bacteria has been around the lakes for nearly four billion years, it's gained a lot of attention recently. The organism is visible to the naked eye, as it presents itself as a bloom or blue-green scum at the top of the water. 

Haney said that worldwide, cyanobacteria outbreaks have increased:

But in response to that, there have been some positive things happening. One of them is that in the Northeast, we have a Northeast Region 1 from the EPA consortium that is developing an antibacterial monitoring program. 

The Shoreline Protection Act prevents landowners from removing too much shrubbery from the shore. How are these regulations enforced?

Jason Aube, the Shoreland Program Outreach Coordinator with the N.H. DES Wetlands Bureau, said:

We receive a number of complaints every day. . .and we triage these complaints [by] the level of environmental impact they pose. 

Aube said that those breaking the rules must pay a fine, but further action may be taken:

First and foremost, we look to educate these folks about the importance of the law first, and also bring them into compliance through restoration. . . Always, we seek to have properties restored so that the site meets the minimum standards. 

Listeners Deborah and Barbara both shared their concern over the prevalence of violations of the Shoreline Protection Act that they see at their local lake, Lake Sunapee. Barbara said:

I have lived on Lake Sunapee since 1957 and have closely observed what has been going on below the surface and in the watershed. I can [remember] when the water was so clear the bottom was visible at depths 20-25 feet; submerged rocks were bright, clean, with no algae and there were few water plants. Salamanders, crayfish and sunfish abounded the lake shallows. Now, lake clarity is lousy, those critters are long gone, the lake bottom and rocks are covered with algae. 

In 1972, Sunapee built a municipal sewer system to serve the watershed in an effort to protect the lake. However, the towns of New London and Newbury, which share lakeshore, did not built municipal water systems. Local and state regulatory enforcement was essentially non-existent.  Deborah said:

 

I am fortunate to live on Lake Sunapee and have been attached to this lake for over 50 years. The homes that are being built on the lake a re huge. The gardens are lush (probably fertilized) and it has an impact on the lake. The most frustrating is when people come in and pay $1 or more million for a house, and they want a view. So they go ahead and violate the law and pay the fine. Who cares about a few thousand bucks in the grand scheme of things? So storm water runoff is far more damaging. Our lake association (

LSPA) has been extremely active but cannot provide enforcement.

How will Fourth of July fireworks impact New Hampshire lakes?

Visit this DES webpage to find out the state's plan for lakes during the Fourth of July.