Celebrating 25 years of rivers protection in N.H.

On signing this landmark piece of environmental legislation, then-Gov. Judd Gregg described the state’s rivers as 'emeralds in the crown jewels of New Hampshire'

In the early 1980s, the town of Jackson fought the development of a hydroelectric facility on the Wildcat River at Jackson Falls. This led to the river’s induction into the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers System and emphasized the need for a similar state program.

In 1985, a group of concerned citizens and conservation organizations formed the New Hampshire Rivers Campaign to advocate for our rivers. The campaign, which later became the New Hampshire Rivers Council, helped to establish the State’s Rivers Management and Protection Program. Thanks to the efforts of many individuals, legislators, organizations and businesses, the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Program is now celebrating its 25th anniversary with approximately 1,000 river miles designated into the Program.

On signing this landmark piece of environmental legislation, then-Gov. Judd Gregg described the state’s rivers as “emeralds in the crown jewels of New Hampshire,” emphasizing the importance of protecting rivers for the benefit of future generations.

To help DES in administering the program, the Legislature established the statewide Rivers Management Advisory Committee (RMAC). The committee is comprised of 17 members representing business, agriculture, hydroelectric, water supply, conservation, recreation, fish and game, historical interests, and municipal and state government.

A unique aspect of the Rivers Program is that local residents or groups nominate their river for designation. As a result of this grassroots support, 18 rivers or river segments flowing through 126 towns, places and state parks are now part of the program. Upon designation, a partnership is created among the state, local citizens and their towns through the formation of a local advisory committee. In true New Hampshire tradition, hundreds of citizens have volunteered their time and expertise to help their communities manage rivers and provide the state with local input regarding development proposals and other decisions that may impact rivers.

Tireless volunteerism

The list of local advisory committee successes is as long and varied as New Hampshire’s rivers themselves. In one case, the protection measures included in the program helped local citizens defeat a proposal to establish a new solid waste landfill in a river’s floodplain. Through its monitoring program, another committee identified an illegal sewage discharge and worked cooperatively with the municipality to disconnect it, eliminating its flow into the river. Yet a third has worked successfully with communities and organizations to increase public access to the river by refurbishing existing recreational facilities and distributing river trail and recreation maps.

The cumulative accomplishments of the local advisory committees are so impressive, they were presented with the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the Spirit of New Hampshire Volunteer Service Award in 2008.

The Instream Flow Program, with its pilot projects to determine how to best meet the needs of water users on designated rivers without harming river ecosystems, has also benefitted from the input of dozens of volunteers. Collectively, volunteers have donated approximately 60,000 hours of their time, valued at over $1.3 million, to the state over the last 25 years.

Like the ceaseless blue flow of our “bejeweled” rivers, volunteers have tirelessly powered the success of the Rivers Program. From the determined Rivers Campaign volunteers who called for the legislative enactment of the program to the hundreds of Granite Staters who have contributed their time and talents since its inception, the Rivers Program has provided the framework for cooperative state and local partnerships.

Thomas Burack is commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Categories: Opinion