Recreation priorities (2005)
The Upper Valley Subcommittee represents the communities of Piermont, Orford, Lyme, Hanover, and Lebanon in New Hampshire and Bradford, Fairlee, Thetford, Norwich, and Hartford in Vermont. The segment of the river covered in this plan is 39 miles long. Under the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection law, it was designated primarily as a Rural river with sections of Rural-Community and Community in the Hanover/Norwich and Lebanon/Hartford area. The river corridor is defined as the river and the land area located within a distance of 1,320 feet of the normal high water mark.
Since the inception of work on the management plan, the Upper Valley River Subcommittee has invited and welcomed input and participation from member towns' officials and the public. The Subcommittee has met with a number of experts from a variety of fields at its monthly meetings. These included engineers, wildlife biologists, boaters, and water quality experts. With the assistance of the Upper Valley/Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, a questionnaire was sent to five percent of the member towns' voter checklists. The responses from these were used in formulating the recommendations. A number of publications and maps, some written expressly for the Connecticut River Joint Commissions and this project, were utilized in the research.
Water Quality: The section of the river in this segment above the Wilder Dam functions differently, ecologically, from the section below the dam because it is impounded. Both sections are, however, affected by the dam. In 1994, both the states of New Hampshire and Vermont as well as a private non-profit organization were monitoring the water quality in the Connecticut River and its tributaries at 38 different sites. At the present time, however, there is no regular, ongoing monitoring of the water quality in this segment of the river due to lack of funds.
The 1994 Connecticut River Water Quality Assessment Report, prepared cooperatively for the Connecticut River Joint Commissions by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, presented findings through a number of questions. Researchers found that additional testing was needed to ascertain whether the fish in this segment could be eaten. At the time of the study, the water quality in the impoundment was not impaired by the existing dam although upstream flow regulation and upstream impoundments presented a threat. The report identified the operation of the hydroelectric facility as a contributing factor to the riverbank erosion, turbidity, and sedimentation found in the segment.
Although some bacterial violations were noted in 1993 in the Lebanon/Hanover area of the mainstem and higher concentrations of E. coli were noted during periods of high river flow, the report stated that swimming need not be restricted. It also stated that there were no known limitations to additional water withdrawals. The report questioned whether the Connecticut River in this segment could assimilate additional treated wastes.
River Attributes: Running adjacent to the river on both its east and west sides are highways as well as a railroad on the Vermont side. There are spectacular scenic views not only of the river but also of the mountains, farms, and villages that form its background. The one hydroelectric facility, Wilder Dam, has an impoundment surface area of 3,100 acres which extends upstream for 45 miles. There are six bridges over the river in this segment, 22 water withdrawal sites, and 24 wastewater discharge sites.
Natural Resource Attributes: Prime warmwater fish habitat is found in the backwaters of the mainstem with the primary species being northern pike, walleye, and smallmouth bass. Wildlife in the segment is typical for northern hardwood-mixed softwood forest habitat and associated streams and reservoirs. Various species are hunted and trapped. The segment is also rich with numerous species of songbirds, amphibians and other nongame animals. Many threatened and endangered species of both plants and animals are found in the Upper Valley segment, with the highest concentration in Hanover and Lebanon. They include the dwarf wedge mussel, the peregrine falcon, and approximately 50 species of plants. The Connecticut River Rapids Macrosite, one of the most biologically rich stretches of the river, supports a number of threatened and endangered species, includes the mainstem from the mouth of the Ompompanoosuc River downstream into the Mt. Ascutney segment, and has been identified by the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge as an important focus area.
Land Uses and Development: Recreation is a major use of the river and its corridor in the Upper Valley segment. Swimming, canoeing, camping, power boating, bicycling, hiking, jogging, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing are some of the more popular activities. Agriculture is an important land use in the northerly section of the segment. Prime agricultural soils in the corridor are believed by some to be the best agricultural soils located in either state. Most of the residential housing found in the corridor is single family homes with only scattered housing occurring in the northern section of the segment. Higher density development, including commercial/industrial development, occurs primarily in Lebanon and the White River Junction area of Hartford but even here, there are areas where no development can be seen from the river.
Every town in the segment has riverfront properties which have been protected with conservation easements held by a number of non-profit, conservation organizations. These protected parcels vary in number, size, and type. The states of Vermont and New Hampshire as well as the ten municipalities in the segment have various regulations and ordinances involving the river corridor. A review of the local documents shows very clearly that, while most town and city plans contain strong recommendations for water resource protection, in most cases these recommendations are not implemented in local regulations.
The members of the Subcommittee believe that bank erosion is the greatest threat to water quality, aquatic habitats, water-based recreation, and landowner happiness in the corridor. There does not appear to be a simple solution to the problem. While engineers believe that multiple forces are responsible, it is unclear exactly which ones are primarily responsible for erosion in this segment of the river. Engineers do agree that changes in the configuration of the bank caused by such factors as erosion and rip-rapping will have an effect on the bank in other areas. The engineers with whom the Subcommittee consulted agreed that to have a better understanding of what is happening to the riverbanks, it is necessary to have a better look at a number of different sites upstream of Wilder Dam to know what happens when there is a drop or rise in water level at the dam. Boat wakes are also one of the greatest causes of bank erosion.
Siltation in the mainstem of the river is caused not only by actions taking place on the mainstem, but also in every tributary. It can be seen at the mouth of every stream entering the mainstem, where sedimentation is evident, particularly at the mouth of the Ompompanoosuc River. As the population grows and the use of the river increases, bank erosion will certainly intensify.
Nonpoint source pollution is defined as contaminants that enter our water resources when water washes across the surface of the land or infiltrates to groundwater. It is caused by human activities such as clearing and grading of land, construction of impervious surfaces, compaction of soils, fertilization of lawns, snow dumping in waterways, road construction, and poor agricultural practices. As these activities increase so will the problem.
Following best management practices will reduce the threat. However, some of the best management practices for agriculture that alleviate nonpoint source pollution are expensive, and farmers cannot pass on to the consumer the cost of these pollution remediation and prevention practices and devices.
According to the states' report on water quality in this segment, a problem could occur if the number of municipal and industrial discharges into the river increases, because the lack of gradient in this segment affects the reaeration capacity, or the ability of the river to assimilate additional wastes.
Because there is presently no regular, ongoing, monitoring of the water quality in the river or its tributaries, the quality of the water could deteriorate undetected, and affect many of the outstanding uses and values of the river.
Further development of the 28.8 miles designated as Rural would change the character of the river, interrupt scenic vistas, suburbanize the river corridor, degrade water quality, and endanger wildlife habitat. Increased demands for impervious surfaces could cause tremendous increases in runoff and in sources of pollution. The mainstem and its tributaries are threatened at present by non- native species such as zebra mussel and Eurasian milfoil, that have the potential to do great damage. The primary method of dispersal of these exotics is by attachment to boat trailers and the hulls of boats and, therefore, the threat is reduced if these are thoroughly washed before being used in a different body of water. Increased recreational demands, failed septic systems in the floodplain, and siltation are additional potential problem areas.
The Connecticut River and its corridor provide an extraordinary quality of life for residents of the Upper Valley as well as for visitors. The objective of this management plan is to protect the quality of the river while permitting its existing uses and ecological values to flourish. The goal is not to dictate, but rather to educate, encourage, and support steps that will accomplish that objective.