Make clean and healthy lakes a priority at the polls

September 8, 2022 5:35 am

Cyanobacteria occurs naturally, but when there are too many nutrients in the water the growth can get out of control. (Photo of Phillips Pond in Sandown, September 2021; courtesy of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services)

In New Hampshire, clean and healthy lakes are a way of life. But the lakes we all love are threatened more than ever before. There are a lot of exceptionally important issues to consider at the polls this fall, and I’m urging you not to forget about your favorite lakes at election time this November.  

Our lakes are sick. By the end of this August, our lakes suffered from a record 33 advisories for toxic cyanobacteria blooms that made people, pets, and wildlife sick. Aquatic invasive species infest nearly 100 waterbodies in the state. Forever chemicals like PFAS and other pollutants contaminate soil, groundwater, lakes, and rivers, jeopardizing drinking water. Climate change is shortening winters, reducing ice cover, and contributing to a host of other ailments. Our use and enjoyment of New Hampshire’s 1,000 lakes depends on restoring and preserving the lakes we love.

Every session of the New Hampshire Legislature, there is legislation introduced that can either protect and restore the water quality of our lakes, or can erode the existing protections our lakes currently have. Over the last two legislative sessions, New Hampshire legislators have considered bills that would have protected wetlands that filter surface water before entering lakes and streams, improve septic inspections that can reduce harmful nutrients from entering our lakes, and protect lakes, rivers, and groundwater from leaking landfills that are sited too close to surface waters. 

We cannot allow clean and healthy lakes to be a partisan issue. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in New Hampshire who does not appreciate or benefit from lakes in some way – from recreational enjoyment, to drinking water, to economic benefits. Nearly every New Hampshire legislator has a lake or pond in their district, and when legislators fail to support legislation protective of lake health, they’re putting our future at risk. The impact of this failure to act will be felt most acutely by our children and grandchildren who will no longer benefit from the use and enjoyment of our lakes – one of our state’s most precious natural resources.

When legislators prioritize freedom from restriction and environmentally damaging development over common sense measures to protect the health of our lakes, they jeopardize the future scenic and recreational value of our lakes. If inherent or recreational value isn’t reason enough to protect our fragile lakes, let’s talk economics. During the summer of 2021, 4.4 million visitors brought $2.1 billion into the state economy. That’s $2.1 billion dollars spent dining at restaurants, boat sales and rentals, lakefront vacation homes, campgrounds, gas stations, and more. 

Who will visit if all our lakes are choked with invasive species that get wrapped around boat propellers and tangle swimmers or frequently sick with toxic cyanobacteria blooms that can cause illness in people and pets? What happens when there’s not enough ice on our lakes for ice fishing and pond hockey? 

During the summer of 2021, an estimated 680 recreation days statewide were lost to toxic cyanobacteria blooms. People were told to stay out of the water, and to keep their guests, kids, and pets out, too. And, speaking of cyanobacteria, studies have shown that frequent cyanobacteria blooms reduce lakefront property values by 22 percent. That means fewer property tax dollars coming into our already struggling towns. Even those of us who do not live along the lakes benefit economically from clean and healthy lakes. If property values and visitor dollars dry up, the tax burden shifts outward, away from the lakes. 

But we have a unique opportunity here in New Hampshire. Our legislators are regular citizens, and each represent about 3,300 people on average. This makes them accessible and available to you as their constituent. If you don’t bump into them at the grocery store or the local watering hole, their home phone numbers are often listed on their legislative profiles. So, in the lead up to the general election in November, when you run into your incumbent legislators or meet a candidate, ask them how they’re going to prioritize clean lakes. Ask them what they know about toxic cyanobacteria, or the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act. Ask them how we should address climate change impacts and improve protections for our lakes. And, if you don’t vote in New Hampshire, but you love our lakes or pay property tax in the state, your voice still matters. Your legislators will want to hear from you, too. 

Give your favorite lakes a voice and make clean and healthy lakes a priority at the polls. Our lakes – and our kids, grandkids, and economy – are counting on you. 

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