Residents say state, drawdown marks on Pawtuckaway aren't on the level
Members of the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, which regulates the water level on 51 lakes and ponds as part of the annual drawdown process in the fall, heard from about 100 residents and property owners who were all against a proposal to reduce the drawdown from 7 feet to 4.82 feet in Pawtuckaway Lake as well as 20.18 feet on the Dolloff Dam.
Residents cited concerns about ice damage, how the additional water could prevent shoreline repair, how property values will be affected and how the state plans to use the lake to store surplus water to replenish levels downstream.
Selectman Chair Mary Bonser promised the town would fight the state if the drawdown levels were changed without showing residents clear evidence how the change would impact Pawtuckaway Lake.
“The townspeople were given no schedule or any answers. As it was explained to us at the meeting, DES was just there to receive testimony,” Bonser said. “DES was not there to answer any questions. We were all very frustrated,” Bonser said in an e-mail.
Bonser said Selectmen intend to discuss the matter during their next meeting, which is scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room #1 at the Town Offices.
The ongoing lake level investigation is part of the state's Lamprey River Instream Flow Program, part of a watershed management plan, which was unveiled last year. The water released from Drowns Dam on Pawtuckaway Lake feeds into the Pawtuckaway River and the North River, a tributary of the Lamprey River.
Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig said he's aware of the matter, which is a “very complex issue,” as it is part of a plan to protect and sustain a healthy ecosystem along the Lamprey River.
“Releasing water from Pawtuckaway (Lake) is not intended to fill Durham's water supply,” Selig said, adding the state is considering storing water, possibly in Pawtuckaway Lake, to create a “pulse” to recharge the Lamprey River during drought conditions.
“Durham will be required to pass that pulse through,” Selig stressed.
Selig said the town of Durham operates a pumping station along the Lamprey River at the Wiswall Dam, which controls the level of water flowing in or out of the reservoir that serves as the main water supply for the community and the University of N.H.
To a lesser extent, Selig said the community also draws water from the Oyster River and a well in the Town of Lee. He estimated that Durham and UNH water customers use 1.2 million to 1.5 million gallons of water per day.
“We operate under very strict regulations as set by the Department of Environmental Services,” Selig said, adding restrictions that regulate water withdrawals have been in place since 2000.
Selig recalled how the community has experienced “drought conditions” four or five times in the past 12 years. He added droughts usually occur during August and September, when UNH students return to campus, creating a great need on the system.
“It creates a significant challenge in Durham,” Selig said, adding to protect water supplies and the Lamprey River, Durham imposes restrictions upon its residents.
Selig said this is the first time the state is discussing the issue with other communities, such as Nottingham.
“We recognize the Lamprey River is a resource for the state of New Hampshire,” Selig said.
Nottingham residents were equally protective of their waterways. Pam and Jim Kelly asked officials to conduct more studies and make them publically available, believing the state had not offered enough evidence to justify the proposed change.
“The impact of this change will be far reaching,” Pam Kelly told DES officials Tuesday.
She said the DES, as a state agency, should be protecting the lake, not using it as a “convenient” location to store surplus water.
“I beg you to hold off on the plan,” Kelly pleaded to DES officials.
Questions regarding the investigation of levels of inland waters at Pawtuckaway Lake should be directed to Kent Finemore, assistant chief engineer with DES's dam bureau, at (603) 271-0566 or via e-mail Kent.Finemore@des.nh.gov.
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John Quinn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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