Ossipee—December 17, 2015—The Effingham-based Green Mountain Conservation Group (GMCG) is taking steps to plan for the future well being of the Ossipee watershed, the lifeline of a 400 square mile ecosystem that provides essentials for life and quality of life to everything that is connected to it. Plants, animals, humans, they are all impacted by the quality of water that abounds in the area’s rivers and lakes. The Ossipee watershed extends to Albany in the north, Sandwich to the west, Brookfield in the south and the Maine border to the east.
GMCG is working with FB Environmental, a Portsmouth-based environmental consulting firm that specializes in water and natural resources management plans. Forrest Bell, the firm’s principal and senior scientist, presented Ossipee selectmen with an overview of the watershed’s environmental history and what changes we’re likely to see and feel in the immediate future. The information provides town planners with the ability to synchronistically plan for the protection of the water and manage growth.
The good news is that as we automatically turn on our faucets each day for water to drink, bathe in, clean with or just have fun in, we are assured an efficient and inexpensive delivery of some of the most pristine and bountiful water there is to be found. “Generally speaking, said Bell, the water quality in the watershed is high.”
GMCG has been monitoring water in the area for the past 10 years or so and red flags began appearing around 2008. Phosphorous levels are increasing, oxygen levels are decreasing, and nutrients that choke the lakes and deplete fish stocks are also increasing. It’s common knowledge that these impacts are exacerbated by human use of common garden fertilizers, cleaning products, septic and storm water run-off, and recreational vehicles on the water.
A classic case of a nearby lake in trouble is Province Lake situated between the towns of Effingham and Wakefield. The NH Department of Environmental Services has classified the lake as “impaired for aquatic life and primary recreation.” The lack of protections saw phosphorous levels rise from 4 to 14, with 15 being the point where lakes turn green and serious, long-term damage occurs. Apart from the obvious environmental impact, residents also saw their property values decrease.
GMCG proposes working with Bell to undertake an Ossipee Lake Management Plan and Built-Out Analysis. This shows how much land is available under current zoning ordinances for development and its location. This in turn raises questions on the town’s residential and commercial future such as how might a town’s appearance and economy change over time, and what are the impacts for the future. And, based on historical growth rate data they can project a timeline for these changes and impacts.
A recent plan done for the town of Freedom shows that there are 9,500 acres of building land available which represents 43 percent of the total. Based on historical data, it’s projected that number of buildings in Freedom would increase from 2,500 to 4,700, its maximum capacity or “built out” level. This limit would be reached anywhere between 2041 and 2064 based on historical growth rates.
The town of Wolfeboro also invested in the built out projection plan and found that by 2035 the town would reach its maximum building capacity. It chose to change zoning ordinances in order to sustainably manage that growth.
Ossipee has experienced what is considered a high growth rate over the past fifty years with the population shifting from 1,400 in 1960 to 4,300 in 2010. GMCG’s assumption is that as this trend continues, the red flags that are already beginning to appear will increase unless protection measures are put in place. They want that conversation to start between all users and managers of the watershed: residents, visitors and town representatives, and believe the management plan is the necessary starting point.
Bell advised selectmen that the management plan would cost $6,000 which he broke down into 100 hours at $60. Indirectly this was a request for funding from the town, but none of the three selectmen would support it. And all because of a grudge.
When questioned if they understood the value of the plan for the town, Chairman Rick Morgan said: “absolutely, but I will never work with an organization that kept us from having a town beach on Lake Ossipee. That is something I have a long memory for.”
Morgan was referencing the effort to establish a town beach on the Long Sands shores back in 2006. The effort failed because the state deemed it the Ossipee Lake Natural Area meaning that it is a protected area. Paradoxically, studies by the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) have documented that the unsupervised recreational use is destroying the rare plants and fragile habitat. In one report, the Ossipee Lake Natural Area is described as a state “hotspot”—an environmentally significant property that is seriously threatened.
Along with many others in town Morgan believes that a publicly accessible beach, under the maintenance of the Town of Ossipee, would ensure far greater protections than the current situation which sees dozens of unregulated boats and their occupants using the beach for hours without any public facilities. There are reports of bonfires and grills being used, endangered plants being trampled, human waste and toilet paper in the woods, and trash left behind.
Morgan attempted a peace offering by suggesting that if the funding request had come via the Ossipee Conservation Commission the selectmen probably would have approved it. However it is too late this year for the funding request. The option left to GMCG at this point in time is to seek support via a petitioned warrant article that would require the signature of 25 Ossipee residents and could be placed on the ballot for town meeting.