Ossipee Lake Drawdown Scare Prompts Planning

Ossipee — September 1, 2005 — After an announcement of an early drawdown this year reportedly caused panic among some boaters, state and local officials will sit down and talk about how best to lower Ossipee Lake in the future.

The N.H. Dam Bureau in regular years drops Ossipee Lake after Columbus Day. The lake generally is kept low until the following May or June, providing storage capacity in the event of a fall storm. The lake also acts as a spring runoff catch basin to help manage flood risks, state officials said.

But this year, the state announced its roughly 3-foot drawdown would start just after Labor Day, a measure to let property owners make needed shorefront repairs.

According to Harry Stewart, director of the Department of Environmental Services Water Division, this was last done about 11 years ago.

Two weeks ago, selectmen reported widespread panic among boaters, and at the marina by many who read about the drawdown on posted signs. Some feared their boats would end up wedged in muddy lake beds.

And State Rep. David Babson, R-Ossipee, said the earlier-than-usual drain could scare away boaters and fishermen, and their wallets, on what is traditionally the last big weekend of summer.

“We need the money,” Babson said. “These guys buy gas, they buy fishing tackle; they use the marina.”

Officials responded by announcing that the lake would not drop dramatically right away. Selectmen and state officials two weeks ago said that boaters have at least a week after Labor Day to move out, when only a preliminary 6-inch drop is planned.

But after Sept. 12, the lowering will become “more aggressive,” according to Steve Doyon, of the N.H. Dam Bureau. “So any boats left in at that time that are difficult to remove in low-water conditions could become an issue for their owners,” he said.

Stewart said after the drawdown a meeting will be held with the Ossipee Lake Authority, a consortium of selectmen from Ossipee, Effingham and Freedom formed in 1991. The group generally provides input to the state about dam management on Ossipee Lake, Stewart said.

“What we’re going to do is talk about how the drawdown went, and how it could be improved in the future,” he said.

Babson also suggested bringing in other groups like marina owners and a lakeside homeowners association. These groups, also with interests in the lake and its drawdown process, may be able to help officials decide how best to allow some homeowners to make repairs, without sacrificing lake-generated revenues.

“Its everybody’s water,” he said. “If they’re going to drain the lake for five people maybe we ought to find a better way to do this,” Babson said.

Selectmen two weeks ago said homeowners were told they needed permits to work on underwater docks and moorings set to emerge in September after the drawdown this year. It would be unfair to hold the lowering until October, selectman said. That’s a time when lakefront vacation homeowners would have already left the lake for full-time residences.

“They were told they have to apply for these permits,” Selectman Joe Skehan said. “If the water’s not down, they can’t do a heck of a lot.”

“As many people want the drawdown,” Selectman Harry Merrow said, “as those who are concerned.”

Merrow said he sees little cause for alarm this year.

“I don’t think I’m that concerned about it. Everybody will be able to get their boat out,” he said.

Contrary to a number of reports, the lake will not be drawn any lower than its yearly norm, Doyon said.

“The only difference between the 2005 drawdown and the normal annual drawdown is that this one will start one month sooner. Again, the lake will not be dropped any lower than usual, only sooner,” he said.

Ossipee Lake levels and discharge can be tracked by navigating to the Ossipee Lake Watershed section at the following web link: www.des.state.nh.us/rti_home/.

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