Summit in Canaan Highlights Challenges to Mascoma River Watershed

  • Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior while Gretchen Renee, right, of Grafton, N.H., installs miniature approximations of riprap during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. Representatives of various stakeholder groups assembled to network and brainstorm solutions to issues facing the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior while Gretchen Renee, right, of Grafton, N.H., installs miniature approximations of riprap during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. Representatives of various stakeholder groups assembled to network and brainstorm solutions to issues facing the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Mascoma River flows past the Baltic Mill Dam in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    The Mascoma River flows past the Baltic Mill Dam in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ron Rhodes of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, right, speaks after attendants broke into discussion groups during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Ron Rhodes of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, right, speaks after attendants broke into discussion groups during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Boys from Mascoma High School wander past the Mascoma River in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. One of the questions posed at the Mascoma River Watershed Summit was how to interest younger people in the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Boys from Mascoma High School wander past the Mascoma River in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. One of the questions posed at the Mascoma River Watershed Summit was how to interest younger people in the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior while Gretchen Renee, right, of Grafton, N.H., installs miniature approximations of riprap during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. Representatives of various stakeholder groups assembled to network and brainstorm solutions to issues facing the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • The Mascoma River flows past the Baltic Mill Dam in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Ron Rhodes of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, right, speaks after attendants broke into discussion groups during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Jeremy Nicoletti of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and New Hampshire Geological Survey uses a flume to demonstrate aspects of river behavior during the Mascoma River Watershed Summit at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, N.H., on April 5, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Boys from Mascoma High School wander past the Mascoma River in Enfield, N.H., on April 5, 2014. One of the questions posed at the Mascoma River Watershed Summit was how to interest younger people in the watershed. (Valley News - Will Parson)
Valley News - Shawn Braley

Valley News - Shawn Braley

Canaan — Decades have passed since untreated industrial waste flowed into the Mascoma River, killing off aquatic life and changing the water color to match the dye the textile mills were using that day. The river’s dramatic turnaround started when the mills began closing and continued with the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Now a vibrant wildlife corridor that’s popular for kayaking and fly fishing, it’s considered an environmental success story. But the river and its watershed face new challenges, including stormwater erosion, invasive species and cyanobacteria outbreaks. Dozens of groups in the nine-town watershed are working to both protect and promote the economic, recreational and cultural value it provides.

The Mascoma River is “a little bit of an underappreciated resource,” said Rachel Ruppel, a senior planner with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission. “A lot of people just really don’t know about it.”

The 32-mile-long river runs through the downtown areas of Canaan, Enfield and Lebanon. It’s home to several hydroelectric dams and serves as the drinking supply for the city of Lebanon. The Mascoma River watershed, a 195-square-mile area, also includes parts of Dorchester, Grafton, Hanover, Lyme, Plainfield and Orange, and contains more than 500 miles of streams and rivers.

In 2011, a 25-mile stretch of the Mascoma River was designated as protected under New Hampshire’s Rivers Management and Protection Program. The protected section extends from the outlet on Canaan Street Lake, through Enfield, including Mascoma Lake, to the river’s confluence with the Connecticut River in West Lebanon.

Protected rivers, also called designated rivers, are selected for their outstanding natural and cultural resources. They are overseen by local advisory committees, volunteer boards that provide input to the state on various construction permits, and create and adopt river management plans protecting shorelines and adjacent lands.

The river is “in pretty good shape now,” said Bill Chabot, chairman of the Mascoma River LAC. The committee’s job is to make sure residents know what they need to do “to make sure it stays at least in the current state.”

The committee recently wrote a river corridor management plan based on surveys with municipal officials, waterfront landowners, and other watershed residents about the most important resources in, and threats to, the river and its watershed. The management plan goals, which are also being worked on by other local groups, include protecting Lebanon’s drinking water supply, improving the water quality of Mascoma Lake, preventing the spread of invasive species, protecting the river system from contaminated stormwater runoff, and avoiding overdevelopment.

As the watershed connects the Upper Valley towns, the committee hopes residents will likewise join their efforts to protect it. On Saturday, it hosted a free summit at Cardigan Mountain School that drew almost 40 stakeholders from more than two dozen organizations.

City and town officials, state lawmakers, lake association members, and others spent the day describing their efforts, discussing how to spread the word about the watershed, and exploring ways to work together on issues such as land conservation, recreation and threats to the watershed.

Their goals for the meeting varied. Some hoped to meet new volunteers willing to help shoulder the work; others wanted to increase town cooperation in specific areas, such as adopting shared guidelines on land use along the river. By the end of the day, organizers and participants said they had made a good start.

Making contact with so many groups will help the LAC create a central communication site for local conservation efforts, perhaps an online calendar or listserv, Chabot said.

Joanna Carr, president of Friends of Canaan Village, found the summit even more useful than she had hoped. The group wants to clean up Indian River, a tributary of the Mascoma River, but wasn’t sure where to start, Carr said. Throughout the day, she met people who could help them move ahead with the cleanup.

Ron Rhodes, a river steward for the Connecticut River, wanted to learn more about conservation efforts in the Mascoma River watershed, and yesterday’s event brought him up to date, he said. It was also a step toward identifying specific calls to action, said Rhodes, who was leaving with a “list of potential actions,” including water quality monitoring and tree planting projects.

Runoff Tops To-Do List

Collectively, those who care about the health of the watershed share quite a to-do list.

Stormwater erosion and pollution caused by runoff — problems exacerbated by climate change — are among the top priorities.

“We can’t really control the waterfall from the sky. We are going to get the amount of water that the weather will provide,” said Earle Jette, vice chairman of the LAC. “Our job, everywhere, I think, is to increase the control measures that should be taken before the problem comes.”

Ruppel used the example of the storms that hammered Lebanon last summer, washing out Slayton Hill Road, causing millions of dollars in damage to public infrastructure and private property. “When things like that happen, there is an impact that happens to the river because Slayton Hill road drains to the Mascoma,” said Ruppel, who worked with the LAC to coordinate yesterday’s summit.

Christina Hall, Lebanon city engineer, said the storm had swept sediment into the river. “When you have those huge, fast-moving storm events, they take the embankments with them,” she said. “It brings it downstream and it deposits it.”

The city is rebuilding the street, long known to be a problem area for drainage, with wider storm culverts and other improvements to prevent future damage. Also in Lebanon, an ongoing stormwater separation project is underway to protect the Mascoma and Connecticut rivers. The project, mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to be completed in 2018.

Kurt Gotthardt, a member of the Mascoma River LAC, hopes to spread the word about another runoff-related problem: siltation. Runoff from construction sites can carry silt into water bodies, filling in streambeds and edging out plant and animal life.

The problem can be avoided by using silt fencing and hay bales, which are removed once the bare ground is reseeded, said Gotthardt, who is also president of the Mascoma Watershed Conservation Council and a member of the Enfield Planning Board. “Most people are not aware of the issues. They see the stream, a small trickle, that goes through their yard. They don’t follow it to where it goes.”

In addition to sediment, runoff can carry pollutants into waterways.

The Canaan Lake Association discourages the use of fertilizers around the lake, said President Jan Forbush. Phosphorus, often contained in fertilizers, leads to aggressive growth of plants and microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria, which can cause illness in humans and animals. The association is also concerned about road salt entering Canaan Street Lake, which is home to a public beach and provides drinking water for Canaan Village.

Problems posed by runoff will only get worse, experts say.

According to climate models, “we are going to have bigger, more frequent high-intensity storms,” and addressing the issue requires a team approach, Ruppel said during a recent meeting of the Mascoma River LAC . “No one group can tackle the whole thing.”

A survey led by the state Department of Environmental Services this summer will assess about a dozen miles of rivers and streams in the watershed. It will focus on potential public safety risks, such as river erosion, river movement and flooding risks, information that is often included in hazard mitigation plans and watershed management plans.

Invasive Species

The ongoing struggle against invasive species continues across the watershed, one plant at a time. Efforts have targeted garlic mustard and other plants that grow on land, along with those that live in water. Throughout the summer, volunteers with New Hampshire’s Weed Watcher program scour lakes for invasive aquatic species. The New Hampshire Lakes Association’s Lake Host program works with boaters to prevent the spread of common culprits, such as Eurasian milfoil.

The Mascoma Lake Association’s fight against the plant started around 1998, according to the association’s website. Keeping it under wraps has been a challenge; last year alone, scuba divers dug out more than 3,000 plants by hand.

“Without vigilance, it could multiply and form a mat on the surface, making swimming, boating and even fishing difficult,” Terri Lynch, president of the Mascoma Lake Association, said in an email. “It is like trying to rid your yard of dandelions without using any herbicides. We can control it but will never eliminate it. … Our goal is to keep it in check and monitor for other invasive species which threaten our waterways.”

An inability to use local waterways for recreation would prove more than just an inconvenience.

Water quality is important to property values and tourism, said Vanessa Stone, owner of Vanessa Stone Real Estate in Enfield. “We are lucky to have the lakes around here, and the people who don’t live on the water still bring their boat and go to the public beaches.”

Stone sells “a lot of waterfront homes” in the watershed, not only on Mascoma Lake, but also along Crystal Lake, Goose Pond and Canaan Street Lake.

If the lakes and ponds were to become degraded, “it would absolutely very much decrease the value” of waterfront properties, she said. “Some people just like the looks of it, but most people that own waterfront want to use the property to swim, fish, boat, do all the fun things.”

Call for Volunteers

If the watershed is a vital resource, so are the volunteers who carry out much of its stewardship. And more are needed.

The Mascoma River LAC, once an eight-member board, is down to five members. Filling seats on community boards “is a problem everywhere,” said Jette, who is also a member of the Lebanon Planning Board, another board with vacancies. “I think people are afraid to commit themselves, basically, until they start it and do it and they find out this is a good thing … and stay committed.”

Nicole Cormen, a member of the Lebanon City Council, agrees that there is a need for more volunteer involvement in the watershed.

“People kind of forget that we have this globally significant resource right here clean air, clean water … abundant wildlife, wood products,” said Cormen, who formerly served on the Lebanon Conservation Commission. “This is what makes quality of life … not just appreciating what we have, but nurturing it.”

And it doesn’t have to feel like work.

“People sometimes forget that there is a tremendous capacity for enjoyment and fun,” she said, ticking off a list of watershed resources, including the Mascoma River Greenway, a multi-use trail that will eventually connect Lebanon and West Lebanon. “There are river cleanups, which actually are a lot of fun on a hot day,” boat parades, hiking, biking, skiing, fishing and hunting, “a lot of really cool things.”

Editor’s note: For more information about the Mascoma River Local Advisory Committee and the Mascoma River Corridor Management Plan, go to mascomariver.wordpress.com. Information about yesterday’s Mascoma River Watershed Summit will be posted there as well. Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.