Reviewing Our Roles in Water Quality

By Andover Conservation Commission

“As we move into summer and welcome seasonal residents back to Andover, we become more aware of how fortunate the town is to have within its borders several bodies of fresh water that contribute to our quality of life in many ways.

To remind readers of our common role in assuring continuing abundant clean water, a series of three Q&A articles, beginning with this one, have been updated and reprinted. The articles focus on what residents and visitors can do to help preserve our lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams; and in August, with a focus on lake friendly boating and recreation practices.”

In Andover, six lakes and a river: pure now, but what's the future?

Q: For anyone who might need his or her memory refreshed, what water bodies are most important to the town?

In order of decreasing size, our principal lakes and ponds include:

Highland Lake, at 211 acres, a cold water lake in East Andover, stocked annually with trout, with a pubic beach for residents, and a designated boat landing;

Bradley Lake, at 170 acres, a warm water lake that provides drinking water to Proctor Academy, the Andover Elementary Middle School, and about 125 homes in Andover village, with an informal boat launch, a 30-horsepower motor limit, and several other posted restrictions;

Elbow Pond, 62 acres, a warm water pond with no designated public access but small boats allowed;

Adder (or Hopkins) Pond, 26 acres, warm water, informal launch, surrounded by Proctor Academy lands, camping permitted with permission from the Proctor land use manager at 603-735-6255;

Horseshoe Pond, 18.5 acres, warm water, no public boating access, now divided by a railroad bed, part of the Northern Rail Trail, that provides good views and fishing access;

Cole Pond, 14.8 acres, warm water, no public access, surrounded by Ragged Mountain Fish & Game Club property.

There's also a major river, the Blackwater, running west to east for more than ten miles in the eastern half of Andover before turning south into Salisbury, eventually merging with the Contoocook River then the Merrimack. Five of Andover's six principal lakes or ponds drain into the Blackwater. Highland Lake drains to the Pemigewasset River, which merges with the Winnipesaukee in Franklin to become the Merrimack.

Q: So why should we care about the quality of these water bodies?

Water is the life blood of the environment. It sustains us, our wildlife, our natural resources, our food sources, many of our recreational pursuits— everything. If we lose abundant clean water and our access to it, we lose just about everything that's vital to us, and it's all connected. Water flows: through the air, on the ground, below ground.

Q: Is there really anything to be concerned about here in Andover?

We've been blessed to this point. We're not aware of any major degradation of our water bodies, though some might have occurred briefly back when water powered mills lined many of our streams. Our voluntary water testing programs at Highland and Bradley Lakes, and Cole Pond indicate continuing high quality. But as human activity increases, so does risk. As one example, phosphorus can enter a water body from septic systems, fertilizers, soaps and detergents, soil erosion, bird droppings, and dumping or burning leaves in or near a lake. Phosphorus in abundance can cause certain bacteria that are toxic to wildlife, pets, and people to bloom out of control.

That's just one example of something to worry about. There are others, caused by pesticides and herbicides, oils and other chemicals, animal manure, and erosion. So while we've been fortunate not to have had serious problems in the past, with ever increasing human impact on our watersheds, there's a need for increasing awareness of water quality as well.

Then of course there's the impact of global warming. Whether you believe in a human cause or not, the data shows the world is getting warmer, and faster than in the past. As the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Resources (NHDES) has observed, “The 2000s was the warmest decade in recorded history for New Hampshire. The impact on our water bodies,” NHDES continues, “includes increased water temperatures, increased algae blooms and turbidity, more intense rainfall events, more dry weather, and lower water levels in the summer.”

Q: You mentioned watersheds. What's a watershed?

Here's what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has to say: “A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place.”

It's more complicated than that. On its way to the sea, water flows through a series of successively larger watersheds. For example, there's an Adder Pond watershed, whose water flows into Adder Pond, which is part of the larger Blackwater River Watershed, which is part of the larger Contoocook River watershed, which is part of the Merrimack River watershed, whose water flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Any one – or all – of these watersheds can be a source of water quality degradation for its water body, and perhaps for every other watershed and water body downstream.

So we all live in one or more watersheds. What happens in Adder Pond doesn't necessarily stay in Adder Pond.

Q: But if there are no problems here, why worry now?

As we're often told in these matters, it's a lot easier – and a lot less expensive – to prevent and preserve than it is to remediate and recover. That's why conservation commissions and planning boards throughout the state are involved in such activities as land preservation, for example through conservation easements, master plans, wildlife protection plans, and ensuring drinking water. They all have to do, at least in part, with water conservation and protection over both the short and long term. They all involve everyone at some point, since we all behave in ways that are either supportive of, or detrimental to, the quality of our lifeblood. We all drink the water.

Q: So to summarize?

Broshek: Well, it's been said that “Water is the new oil.” It's a finite quantity, and it's not evenly distributed around the globe. As writer-researcher Steven Solomon has written, “Alarmingly, societies are bifurcating into those with enough water and those without. Two in five people lack adequate sanitation, and over 1 billion don't have access to safe drinking water.”

We in New Hampshire are extremely fortunate in our abundance.

(Next month: What you can do to keep our water bodies in good health.)