We are very fortunate to have the longest undammed river in the state of New Hampshire. The Saco River is 41 miles of flowing bliss.
Over the past 25 years, working with Trout Unlimited, I have learned that the number one barrier to cold, clean water and free-flowing watersheds are dams. Fortunately, over the past 25 years, science has shown us that dams harm the environment and that removing a dam leads to an improvement in the overall quality of the watershed.
The nature of a dam is to retain water. These reservoirs can control water levels, drive machinery and generate electricity.
The downside of these impoundments is that the impounded water captures solar energy and artificially raises the temperature of the water, often to temperatures that are harmful to fish and wildlife and conducive to harmful bacteria.
The Goodrich Falls Dam on the Ellis River is responsible for an increase in temperature. From the temperatures I took, there is up to a 5 degree increase in water temperature below the dam compared to the temperatures at the Jackson Covered Bridge.
The water coming out of Pequawket Pond warms the Swift River to temperatures that are totally inhospitable to trout. Last summer, NH Fish and Game brown trout stocked in the Swift were located miles above the Pequawket due to the inhospitable temperatures created by the pond. It is an artificially high pond due to the dam.
I first became aware of the problems associated with artificial reservoirs while carrying out restoration work on anadromous brook trout.
Santuit Pond was a kettle pond formed by glaciers and at the outlet the Santuit River flowed into salt water. For centuries, brook trout and herring have used the creek and pond for habitat and breeding.
Once the Santuit Pond was identified as a site for housing development, a dam was constructed to maintain the “waterfront” appeal of properties built on the pond. A fish ladder was part of the design of the dam. A ladder that the fish ended up not using with much success.
The dam canceled the natural ebb and flow of the Santuit pond. Over the years, this pond has become a collection point for phosphorus from lawn fertilizers and nitrogen from old septic tanks.
In recent years, increasing pool temperatures coupled with chemical loading have resulted in blue-green algae blooms exploding on the pool. These blooms are harmful to all aquatic species.
Soon, the association in charge of the dam began to “chase” the algae in the river to “save” the pond. The blue-green algae then killed aquatic life in the Santuit River. Brook trout have disappeared and vital river habitat has been neutralized.
This is the cautionary tale.
At the recent Fish and Game Commission meeting, I learned of a bill that the Big Pea Porridge Pond Association has asked Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) to introduce. The bill would allow the association to build a dam on Big Pea Porridge. HB 1532 was introduced. The Resources, Recreation and Development Committee hearing for the bill will be held January 19 at 1:00 p.m. in the Legislative Office building.
The Fish and Game Commission voted against the bill. NH Trout Unlimited opposes the bill.
A call to Representative McConkey was not returned by the deadline. There was also no request to the Big Pea Porridge Pond Association for comment.
Today is Free Ice Fishing Day in New Hampshire. If you’ve ever wanted to try ice fishing, rent some gear and get out on one of our many ice fishing waters.
Conway-area native Steve Angers is the author of “Fly Fishing New Hampshire’s Secret Waters” and operates the North Country Angler.