Executive Summary

This Plan is the first update to the original Upper Merrimack River Management and Implementation Plan prepared by the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee (UMRLAC) in 1994. The section of the upper Merrimack River designated for additional protection under the New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Act (RSA 483) consists of 30 miles starting from the confluence of the Winnipesaukee and Pemigewasset Rivers in the City of Franklin to Garvins Falls in the Town of Bow. UMRLAC is comprised of representatives from six communities including Boscawen, Bow, Canterbury, Concord, Franklin, and Northfield.

This Management and Implementation Plan update was developed as result of many working meetings with the UMRLAC members over the course of eighteen months with technical and report preparation assistance from both the Central NH Region Planning Commission and its subcontractor, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. of Bedford, NH. Funding for the development of this Plan was provided through a water quality planning grant administered through the NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), Rivers Management and Protection Program.

Since the original Plan was completed 1994, land use conditions within the river corridor have changed. Each community has experienced population growth and an increase in both residential and commercial land uses. Land use changes can affect both water quality conditions through increased pollutant loading as well change stream flow conditions by altering the existing runoff/recharge dynamics. In addition to changes in land use, the scientific knowledge and our understanding of complex resource protection issues as well as the tools available to enhance resource protection have changed dramatically. At the time the original Plan was produced, the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the availability of geo-referenced data layers were still in its infancy. Today, the use of GIS has become a highly useful tool to create detailed mapping of the various resources and to conduct spatial temporal analyses as to how land use changes and other human activities may affect these resources.

Our understanding of the existing water quality and aquatic life conditions has been greatly enhanced due to the extensive data collection activities in the river corridor over the last decade or so. Most notably, the UMRLAC’s Upper Merrimack Monitoring Program (UMMP) has collected macroinvertebrate data at multiple river locations for more than twelve years since 1994. The UMMP has not only developed a long term database of macroinvertebrate data, which can be used to assess changes in water quality conditions over time, but has also been very successful in attracting and recruiting hundreds of volunteers, which helps to inform the public and awareness of values and issues associated with preserving the integrity of the upper Merrimack River. The public education and awareness component of the UMMP is particularly important in building consensus and generating local involvement in the protection efforts in each of the upper Merrimack communities. Each community has their own unique concerns and issues with respect to land development, natural resources protection, pollution sources, and historic and cultural heritage. The momentum of public involvement generated by the UMMP can be used to solidify a general consensus among the upper Merrimack communities to help them identify the priorities for future implementation measures. These measures will help improve the current protection measures to insure the unique characteristics and resources of the upper Merrimack can be preserved for generations to come.

Since the first Plan was published, there have been several proposed and recently adopted state regulatory and environmental policy changes. This Plan incorporates many of the new and anticipated provisions of these regulatory and policy changes including the proposed updates to the Comprehensive Shoreline Protection Act (RSA 483-B), changes to Alteration of Terrain Program regulation, and the still pending draft instream flow regulations. NHDES is working towards completing two instream flow pilot studies in the Souhegan and Lamprey Rivers to establish methods in developing flow thresholds to protect instream flow and designated uses during low flow conditions. The results of these pilot studies will be used to finalize rules and regulations for adoption to protect instream flow conditions in the other designated river reaches. In the interim, NHDES has compiled data on existing water user facilities, withdrawal volumes and discharges within the upper Merrimack River reach that will potentially affected by instream flow regulations. Starting in 1998, NHDES has also maintained a list of “impaired ” water bodies, which identifies water bodies that are known to have a water quality impairment of one or more of the designated uses due to pollutant contributions, flow alterations, or an invasion of exotic species. For water bodies that are impaired due to point or nonpoint pollutant source(s), a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study must be conducted to determine the pollutant load reduction needed to eliminate the impairment and protect all designated uses of the water body. Building on this program, the NHDES Watershed Management Bureau has recently developed Interim Guidance documents for conducting Pollutant Loading Analyses and Stormwater BMP design standards for newly proposed large development projects within watersheds of impaired water bodies. This interim guidance is intended to become part of the proposed Alteration of Terrain (AoT) permit requirements once the proposed new rules are adopted (tentatively planned for early 2008).

The NH Fish and Game Department has recently released a comprehensive, statewide Wildlife Action Plan that identifies critical wildlife habitat locations and includes recommended actions needed to protect these areas. The NH Fish and Game Department also has prepared guidance on proper culvert installation methods to improve fish passage at road crossings, has also established. In February 2007, NHDES published a guidance document providing details on improving natural stream channel design and stream bank stabilization techniques. The information contained in these recent publications will be included in the assessment and restoration activities outlined in this Plan.

This Plan describes the goals, objectives, and the recommended activities needed to enhance protection for thirteen (13) different resource areas that are considered critical and relatively unique to the designated river corridors throughout this state. The resources are grouped into three main categories including water resource management, outstanding resource management, and riparian lands management. There are seventeen (17) different protection goals identified and included in this Plan with several resources areas having more than one goal. Based on the desired goals, one or more measurable and time bound objectives were then established for each resource to help accomplish these goals. The objectives focused on both short and long-term data collection, restoration and funding needs, updating local ordinances to be consistent with recent regulatory and policy changes, and developing partnerships with other agencies to help implement Best Management Practices. For each objective, the Plan lists a number of specific activities that should be followed to meet each of the objectives. The general timeframe to complete the goals, objectives, and activities of this Plan was considered to be by end of 2012. To this end, successful implementation will depend on close and frequent collaboration with local municipal officials, planning board and conservation commission members, state resource agency personnel, and available funding assistance.