Water study should make waves with businesses


Change could be coming to the way water from the Souhegan River and its aquifers is used by golf courses, farms and businesses. “For an industry that depends on the river, this could be kind of alarming,” said George May of Merrimack, whose years of volunteer work on the Souhegan has made him one of the river’s most knowledgeable advocates. The potential change is part of a multiyear state program, called the Instream Flow Protection Pilot Program, which is using the Souhegan and the Lamprey River on the Seacoast to figure out how to control water use in rivers throughout New Hampshire. The idea is to protect water supplies, associated aquifers and the environment without doing too much damage to those along the river who have been in the habit of using as much water as they need. “The question is: At what point, when you keep taking water out of it, does it cease to be a river?” May said. A long period of data gathering, including boating and on-foot examination of the entire 35-mile river, was completed earlier this year and compiled into a large, chart-laden draft report that was to receive its first formal hearing June 6 in Concord. This and possible future hearings will trigger the next phase, during which the Department of Environmental Services will decide what rules and guidelines to impose. “The next step will be a water management plan. How are we actually going to meet the goals?” said Wayne Ives, instream flow specialist for DES. Ives expects such rules to start appearing by the end of summer. The prospect of the state telling people, firms and even local government how much water they can use out of rivers has generated considerable debate. Invisible flows As long ago as 2000, Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter joined with his then-counterpart in Manchester, Robert Baines, to criticize initial proposals for limiting the amount of water the cities could take from the Merrimack River during dry periods. And in Milford, alarm was expressed that the town might have to build an extra water-storage tank, at a cost of millions of dollars, if use of Souhegan River water was curtailed. Such outcries helped lead to the detailed study of the Souhegan and Lamprey rivers as a way to gather detailed information that could be used to justify rules. If it works in these cases, similar approaches will be taken with other rivers, clear up to the size of the Merrimack. The upper Souhegan begins in Ashburnham, Mass., just south of New Ipswich, and flows north through Greenville and Wilton, and is a small, tumbling, kayakers’ river. The lower Souhegan, which flows east from Wilton to the Merrimack River in south Merrimack, is deeper, more placid and meandering, fit for casual canoe trips much of the year. Yet there are few big streams leading into the Souhegan that would add enough water to change its nature. May said the difference is invisible flows from a huge underground aquifer, one of the biggest in the state, that stretches from Pennichuck Ponds in Nashua to west Milford and which is tapped by at least two bottled-water companies, including Monadnock Water in Wilton. “They were kind of surprised when they were doing the study that there is more water down here than there should be,” May said. “That’s all groundwater.” Still, the Souhegan’s supply is far from excessive. For example, the study found that the flow in the lower river was less than the amount needed to maintain healthy fish populations almost one-third of the time over the last five years. As a result of findings like that, rules are likely to be imposed that will limit use when the water flow drops below a certain amount for a long enough period, or during environmentally sensitive periods such as when fish are spawning. Limits are likely to involve combinations of three steps: taking out less water, particularly when the flow is low; using water that’s taken more wisely, which includes returning less pollution back into the river from runoff; and saving water for dry periods, known technically as impounded management. - DAVID BROOKS/THE TELEGRAPH
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