Winnipesaukee Recreational Proposal

posted November 23, 2006
by Mark and Sharon Lacroix

Winnipesaukee River Recreational Plan

11/20/06

  

American Whitewater (AW) along with its affiliate club organizations the Merrimack Valley Paddlers (MVP) and New Hampshire Appalachian Mountain Club (NHAMC) are requesting a new lake level management plan to enhance downstream recreation on the Winnipesaukee River.

A panel consisting of representatives from the Lakes region was set up to look into and recommend changes to the level management of Lake Winnipesaukee and associated lakes. The impetus for this has been the flooding over the last couple years with "no wake" rules being instituted, access under bridges, etc.


The panel is considering dropping the maximum lake level target several inches (maybe up to 6"). What we are asking for is to limit that drop to include 3-1/2" of water to be used for 8 recreational release weekends during the summer, 3 in July, 3 in August, 2 in September. The scheduled Pemi release would fill in the extra day in July and August. June usually has good water most years anyway so we did not waste our request weekends for that month. The 3-1/2" of water does not need to be stored from the outset, it could be "time shifted" from normal summer precipitation events.

The Winnipesaukee River drains a lake of the same name which is the largest lake in New Hampshire (see maps #1&2).  The river starts at the outlet of Lake Winnipesaukee at Weir’s Beach but initially is only a broken series of channels and short river segments connecting Paugus Bay, Opechee Lake, Winnisquam Lake, and Silver Lake.  A continuous section of river starts in Tilton at the outlet of Silver Lake one mile upstream of the Route 140 Bridge.  This portion of the river is approximately 8.25 miles long.  There are four distinct sections of river below Silver Lake, two of which are very interesting to white water paddlers, one section is a little less interesting but could still draw some touring and flatwater paddlers, and the final section in Franklin which is populated by two impassable dams. 

 

 

Winnipesaukee River

Section 1

NH Route 140 Bridge in Tilton to Clement Dam in Tilton

Approximately 2 miles

Class I and II rapids (easy)

This section of river is one of the very best training and novice white water rivers in the region.  This section is accessed from a public boat launch on Shaker Road just off of RT 140.  The put in area near the 140 bridge provides excellent moving water practice and training in a relatively safe section of river.  Further downstream the river gradually picks up velocity and builds up to class I and II rapids shortly downstream of the Interstate 93 bridge.  This first rapid provides excellent eddy practice with waves and small holes to challenge a novice.  This section is somewhat setback from civilization with forested shores.  Shortly downstream a railroad bridge signals the first bigger drop and a return to a more urban environment as the river passes through downtown Tilton.  The river passes the Island Park between Northfield and Tilton with several more drops in this section caused by the remains of washed out dams continuing up to the pool above Clement Dam.  In 2006 the town of Tilton dedicated Riverfront Park which includes boat launch and bathrooms on river right.  The town of Northfield is currently constructing a small park with easy take out for paddlers on river left (opposite the Tilton Park).

The paddling community is very concerned about talk and preliminary plans about the Army Corps of Engineers recommendation to dredge the upper portions of this run.  This would eliminate the warm up rapids and destroy one of the best training rivers in all of central New England.

 

 

Section 2

Clement Dam in Tilton to Cross Mill Road in Northfield/Franklin

Approximately 2.25 miles

Class I and quickwater (very easy)

This section of river does not currently draw many paddlers.  The primary reason is the difficult access caused by the Clement Dam boundary fences.  It is nearly impossible to put in without trespassing or climbing fencing. 

This section is very scenic as it is mostly isolated from homes and development.  It would be of more interest to fishermen, birdwatchers, and touring boats.  There is a short rapids section shortly below the dam and one more class I rapid about half way through.  Wildlife is very prevalent here with deer, herons, hawks, mink, and other wildlife seen on just one recent trip.  Takeout on river left just above the Cross Mill Road Bridge. 

 

 

Section 3

Cross Mill Road in Northfield/Franklin to Main Street in Franklin

Approximately 1.25 miles

Class III (IV high water) (intermediate to difficult)

The Franklin section of river is the most challenging and popular section of the river for white water paddlers.  Passing through a natural gorge with high banks, the river is very scenic and isolated despite it’s location in a well populated area.  Regularly drawing paddlers from across New England, these rapids are generally considered class III to III+ at 750 to 1200 cubic feet per second (cfs).  At the higher flows (over 2,000 cfs) these rapids push up to the class IV and IV+ range.   

Takeout is at the newly built Trestle View Park in downtown Franklin.  A new boat ramp makes takeout a lot easier than in the past. 

 

Section 4

Trestle View Park in Franklin to the Merrimack River

Approximately 1/2 mile

Impassable by boat

This section of river is populated by several dams and associated buildings that totally block downstream access to paddlers.  Access to the upper Merrimack River is gained by a public boat launch on the Winnipesaukee River located behind Franklin High School.

 

Current Recreational Status

Better management of water levels and releases could significantly improve conditions for recreational paddling on the Winnipesaukee River.  The current operating conditions for the Winnipesaukee River is not very beneficial to paddlers.  Whitewater boating requires a minimal amount of water to allow passage over shallow sections of water.  That amount of water varies depending on many factors such as river width, gradient, geological make up, etc.  The optimum level for boating the Winnipesaukee is between 800 and 1200 cfs.  Spring levels are often in excess of 1800 cfs turning away all but the most advanced boaters.  A gradual ramp down to lower flows would be more desirable providing boating opportunities for different abilities as the flow drops.  However, these high flows are turned down to minimal flows quickly once the lakes reach their “target” levels, sometimes dropping from 2000 cfs to 500 or less in just a couple days.  Another problem is that releases often start early in the week and tend to shut down just before the weekend leaving boaters high and dry and traveling elsewhere.  The summer release level of 250 cfs is so low it really does not offer white water paddling opportunities.

A guaranteed 800 cfs minimum release level on scheduled summer weekends would draw hundreds of boaters. We would like to request three scheduled release weekends  in July and August and two scheduled release weekends in September.

New England Whitewater Resources

New England has a wide variety of paddling opportunities in the spring and after heavy rains.  But the small steep watersheds in the six state region tend to drain quickly.  Once summer starts in New England paddlers must travel to dam release rivers.  Most of these resources are located in central and northern Maine on the Kennebec, Dead, and Penobscot rivers.   Paddlers in the Boston area must travel a minimum of 4-1/2 hours and 250 miles to reach these areas.  There is also a summertime paddling destination in western Massachusetts located on the Deerfield river.  This is a very popular river that draws close to 1000 paddlers every weekend.  Still the Deerfield is over 2-1/2 hours and 160 miles from Boston. 

A scheduled Winnipesaukee release would fill a huge gap in central New England with novice and intermediate paddling opportunities only 75 miles and 1-1/4 hours from the Boston metro area. 

 

Economic Reasoning

The downstream recreational enhancement program will be an economic plus for the tourist bypass towns downstream of the lakes.  This region which includes the west end of Tilton, Northfield, and Franklin have not shared in the prosperity brought on by the lakes to the east.  If the decision is made to enhance downstream recreational flows hundreds of boaters will recreate in these locations utilizing local businesses as they visit for a day or weekend.  Restaurants, gas stations, campgrounds, hotels, grocery stores, etc. will see an increase in activity during the summer release weekends.  Additionally whitewater recreational businesses will develop.  Kayak and canoe retailers may spring up that may offer lessons and shuttles for visiting boaters.  If the releases are on the higher end of the scale request whitewater rafting outfitters will also populate these riverside communities.    

 

Recreational Balance

Currently, power-boating and power-boating related activities are the main focus of all recreational activities on the lakes.   In recent years the lake has become more crowded and overwhelmed with larger high speed craft.   Human powered craft (canoes and kayaks) are endangering themselves whenever they enter the waters of lake Winnipesaukee, Opechee, Winnisquam, Wentworth, or other associated lakes and bays.  American Whitewater is asking for a balanced recreational opportunity for a segment of the society that would prefer a healthier and an environmentally friendlier activity within the region.    

Downstream Environmental

The current status is detrimental to the rivers ecological balance.  The 250cfs continuous flow through the summer does not allow eddies and pools to “flush out”.  These areas then become increasingly stagnant with flotsam and microbial growth.  A natural (or manmade) cycle would see the river rise and fall several times over the course of the summer from rain events and drought.  This fluctuation of flow also pulls in bugs and other nutrients from the immediate shoreline helping to feed the native fish stocks within the river.  Although we do not profess the recreational releases to exactly mimic the natural cycle, it will be better than a continuous 250 cfs flow for months on end. 

Our request asks for 1 continuous release each weekend spanning 38 hours instead of two separate release events over the course of the weekend.  Although this plan will use more water than two separate releases, environmentally one release cycle running through the weekend is less stressful to downstream biota. In addition Lochmere dam is located at the head of Silver Lake.  This allows Silver Lake to gradually ramp up flows on the Winnipesaukee River and more importantly to gradually ramp down flows preventing stranding of fish stocks downstream. 

 

Recent History

For more than 20 years local paddling organizations along with the “Friends of the Winnipesaukee River” have helped nature remove the many obstacles put up by man in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The 1- 1/4 mile section from Cross Mill Rd to Main street in Franklin used to be home to over a half dozen dams and mill buildings. All those mills were abandoned over 50 years ago. Some were torn down others collapsed or burned. The road accessing those buildings on river right has overgrown. Them half dozen or so dams were breached in flood waters during the 60's and 70's Now there are only two river side remnants of the river's industrial past on this segment, the most obvious one is the three chimneys of the Daniels Pulp Mill.

The main cleanup efforts in the early years were to remove rebar and log cribbing from those dams. Recent years efforts have concentrated on trash removal. Everything from snowmobiles, waterheaters, car parts, oil tanks, lake docks, air conditioners, tires, bicycles etc. have been removed over the last two decades. This effort over the years has really improved this river segment from "something to avoid at all cost" to one of the most popular late spring / early summer runs in the state of NH. As a result of these efforts the towns of Franklin, Northfield, and Tilton have taken notice of the increased use of this resource and have invested millions to improve river access and river trail development. Two years ago the Town of Franklin dedicated Trestle View Park which includes a river side boat ramp, parking lot, and bathrooms.  This lot used to be an eyesore with the crumpled remains of the Silver Bullet Chinese Restaurant. Egress from the river required the paddler to navigate through broken glass and shopping carts then having to climb over the crumbling remains of a ten foot brick and stone wall to exit the river.

The Winnipesaukee River Trail was also dedicated two years ago.  This Trail runs along the south bank of the Winnipesaukee River from Trestle View Park in downtown Franklin and going all the way to the take out for the upper Winnipesaukee River (Section 1) in Northfield/Tilton. Many people use this trail to foot shuttle between the takeout and the put in scouting the river as they walk. On October 28th of this year members of the AMC, MVP and American Whitewater built a new river access trail and stairway connecting the Winnipesaukee Trail to a river side eddy at Three Chimneys which is approximately half way down the lower section.  This new trail will provide an escape route for boaters who find themselves not wanting to run the more difficult lower sections of the river and put in access for those boaters only interested in the more difficult lower section.   It will also provide quick easy access for fishermen, photographers, sightseers and rescue personal. 

In Tilton the town dedicated a new riverside park at the take out for the class I-II upper Winnipesukee this past September. This park also features a boat ramp, parking and bathrooms.   Northfield is currently constructing a small park/trail head for the Winnipesaukee River trail opposite Tilton’s Riverfront Park.

  

Request

What our organizations are requesting is for a lake management plan that would hold back and reserve 3-1/2” of lake water to be used for summer weekend downstream recreational releases.  This 3-1/2” could be stored early in the season and/or “time shifted[1]” with normal precipitation accumulations during the three month period. 

We are requesting a total of 8 recreational release weekends possibly adhering to the following schedule:

July

1st full weekend            Recreational release                  800cfs

2nd full weekend          Recreational release                  800cfs

3rd full weekend           Base flow                                 250cfs

4th full weekend           Recreational release                  800cfs

5th full weekend*         Base flow                                 250cfs

August

1st full weekend            Recreational release                  800cfs

2nd full weekend          Recreational release                  800cfs

3rd full weekend           Base flow                                 250cfs

4th full weekend           Recreational release                  800cfs

5th full weekend*         Base flow                                 250cfs

September

1st full weekend            Recreational release                  800cfs

2nd full weekend          Recreational release                  800cfs

3rd full weekend           Base flow                                 250cfs

4th full weekend           Base flow                                 250cfs

5th full weekend*         Base flow                                 250cfs

 

* If applicable

 

Each weekend release is equivalent to 7/16” of water off the lake.

 

We also request NHDES to make arrangements for dam operations at Lochmere and Lakeport to provide these releases starting at 10 pm on Fridays and ending at 12 pm on Sundays. 

 

We also request test flows for the summer of 2007 to verify this plan.  We ask that the final plan be implemented for the summer of 2008.

 

The table[2] below shows the anticipated lake level drop in inches for various flow models for an entire season.  The table is based on the surface area of Lake Winnipesaukee only (72 square miles) without consideration for additional inflow from rain or loss from evaporation.  Starting with a base minimum flow of 250 cfs and working up with additional flow and time scenarios.  The weekend flow request is based on a 38 hour release starting at 10 pm on Friday evenings and ending at 12 pm Sunday. 

 

 

 

Weeks

Total Hours

250 cfs

500 cfs

750 cfs

800 cfs

900 cfs

1000 cfs

 
 
 

14

532

0

2.88

5.77

6.35

7.50

8.65

 

13

494

0

2.68

5.36

5.89

6.96

8.03

 

12

456

0

2.47

4.94

5.44

6.43

7.42

 

11

418

0

2.27

4.53

4.99

5.89

6.80

 

10

380

0

2.06

4.12

4.53

5.36

6.18

 

9

342

0

1.85

3.71

4.08

4.82

5.56

 

8

304

0

1.65

3.30

3.63

4.29

4.94

 

 

 

The following table adds two large lakes to the formula.  The surface areas of Wentworth and Winnisquam lakes would add an additional 10 square miles to the flow model. The table below shows the anticipated lake level drop in inches for various flow models for an entire season.  The table is based on the surface area of Lake Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam, and Wentworth (82 square miles) without consideration for additional inflow from rain or loss from evaporation.  Starting with a base minimum flow of 250 cfs and working up with additional flow and time scenarios.  The weekend flow request is based on a 38 hour release starting at 10 pm on Friday evenings and ending at 12 pm Sunday.

 

 

Weeks

Total Hours

250 cfs

500 cfs

750 cfs

800 cfs

900 cfs

1000 cfs

 
 
 

14

532

0

2.53

5.07

5.57

6.58

7.60

 

13

494

0

2.35

4.70

5.17

6.11

7.05

 

12

456

0

2.17

4.34

4.78

5.64

6.51

 

11

418

0

1.99

3.98

4.38

5.17

5.97

 

10

380

0

1.81

3.62

3.98

4.70

5.43

 

9

342

0

1.63

3.26

3.58

4.23

4.88

 

8

304

0

1.45

2.89

3.18

3.76

4.34

 

 

We hope the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and the state of New Hampshire find this request to be balanced and reasonable.  A new lake level management plan containing the main elements of this request could be an enormous benefit for paddlers and the downstream communities.  



[1] Time shifting- holding back runoff from a precipitation event to coincide with the next scheduled release weekend.

[2] The tables show the total lake elevation drop in inches for an entire season over and above the base flow of 250 cfs (yellow area).  The left column (green) contains scenarios for a number of weeks.  The second green column is a multiple of the weekend 38 hour release request times the number of weeks in the leftmost column.  The upper row (blue) contains various release scenarios in cubic feet per second (cfs)

 

The Winnipesaukee River drains a lake of the same name which is the largest lake in New Hampshire (see maps #1&2).  The river starts at the outlet of Lake Winnipesaukee at Weir’s Beach but initially is only a broken series of channels and short river segments connecting Paugus Bay, Opechee Lake, Winnisquam Lake, and Silver Lake.  A continuous section of river starts in Tilton at the outlet of Silver Lake one mile upstream of the Route 140 Bridge.  This portion of the river is approximately 8.25 miles long.  There are four distinct sections of river below Silver Lake, two of which are very interesting to white water paddlers, one section is a little less interesting but could still draw some touring and flatwater paddlers, and the final section in Franklin which is populated by two impassable dams. 

Mark Lacroix
Thornton, NH