In New Hampshire, clean, healthy lakes are a way of life. But the lakes we all love are more threatened than ever. There are plenty of exceptionally important issues to consider in the election this fall, and I urge you not to forget your favorite lakes in the November election.
Our lakes are sick. At the end of August, our lakes were the subject of a record 33 toxic cyanobacteria bloom advisories that have sickened people, pets and wildlife. Aquatic invasive species infest nearly 100 bodies of water in the state. Forever, chemicals like PFAS and other pollutants contaminate soil, groundwater, lakes and rivers, putting drinking water at risk. Climate change is shortening winters, reducing ice cover and contributing to a host of other ills. Our use and enjoyment of New Hampshire’s 1,000 Lakes depends on restoring and preserving the lakes we love.
With each session of the New Hampshire State Legislature, legislation is introduced that can either protect and restore the water quality of our lakes or erode the existing protections that our lakes currently have. Over the past two legislative sessions, New Hampshire lawmakers 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 protecting lakes, rivers and groundwater from leaking landfills located too close to surface waters.
We cannot allow clean, healthy lakes to be a partisan issue. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in New Hampshire who doesn’t appreciate or benefit from the lakes in one way or another – from recreational enjoyment, to drinking water, to economic benefits. Almost every New Hampshire legislator has a lake or pond in their district, and when legislators don’t support legislation protecting the health of the lake, they put our future at risk. The impact of this failure to act will be felt most harshly 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 lawmakers prioritize freedom from restriction and environmentally harmful 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. In the summer of 2021, 4.4 million visitors contributed $2.1 billion to the state’s economy. That’s $2.1 billion spent on restaurants, boat sales and rentals, lakeside vacation homes, campgrounds, gas stations, and more.
Who will visit if all of our lakes are choked with invasive species that wrap around boat propellers and tangled swimmers or are frequently sick with blooms of toxic cyanobacteria that can cause illness in people and pets ? What happens when there is not enough ice on our lakes for ice fishing and pond hockey?
During the summer of 2021, approximately 680 recreation days statewide were lost to toxic cyanobacterial blooms. People have been told to stay out of the water and keep their guests, children and pets out as well. And, speaking of cyanobacteria, studies have shown that frequent cyanobacteria blooms reduce the value of waterfront properties by 22%. This means less property taxes coming into our already struggling cities. Even those of us who don’t live along lakes benefit economically from clean, healthy lakes. If property values and visitor dollars are depleted, the tax burden shifts outward, away from the lakes.
But we have a unique opportunity here in New Hampshire. Our legislators are ordinary citizens and each represents approximately 3,300 people on average. This makes them accessible and available to you as a settlor. If you don’t meet them at the grocery store or local watering hole, their home phone numbers are often listed on their legislative profiles. So, as the November general election approaches, when you meet with your incumbent lawmakers or meet with 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 deal with the impacts of climate change and improve the protection of our lakes. And, if you don’t vote in New Hampshire, but love our lakes or pay state property taxes, your vote still counts. Your legislators will also want to hear from you.
Give your favorite lakes a voice and make lake cleanliness and health a priority in polls. Our lakes, our children, our grandchildren and our economy depend on you.
Michelle Farnham is Policy and Advocacy Program Manager at NH LAKES. She lives in Concord. If you want to know how to advocate for clean and healthy lakes, you can contact her at [email protected] and visit nhlakes.org/VOTE)