As we reach the dog days of summer, many of us Granite Staters have spent the past season enjoying the beautiful views and waters of our local New Hampshire lakes. New Hampshire is lucky enough to have just about 1,000 lakes.
While the efforts of land and lake conservation are both instrumental to the survival of our biodiversity, they are both complex as there are many faucets of conservation. So today, let’s talk about something that is happening to New Hampshire at an alarming rate.
Have you seen something like this recently?
Currently, there are six New Hampshire lakes with signs like this, all closed due to high levels of bacteria in the water. These high levels of bacteria are extremely dangerous to life in and out of the water, and to the lakes sustainability over time.
What is this bacteria and why is it harmful?
This bacteria is a harmful type of algal bloom. Algal blooms are harmful because they produce toxins collectively referred to as “cyanotoxins.” These toxins are harmful to the biodiversity in lakes because they reduce oxygen levels in the water and block light which creates “dead zones.” These dead zones are large areas of water where no life can grow or survive. Scientists have even seen thousands of fish go belly up at once.
Right now, in New England, we can see massive dead zones appearing in the Narraganset Bay and the Long Island Sound. On land, these algal blooms can affect domestic animals, livestock, wildlife, and humans. By swimming in this polluted water, these toxins can cause acute and chronic illnesses, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and can even attack the central nervous system and cause neurological disorders. Not only do these toxins destroy whole habitats, they can also make their way into our own drinking water.
What causes algal blooms?
Algal blooms are caused by nutrient pollution. Nutrient pollution happens when excess nitrogen and phosphorous enter our waterways. This happens because of us! From everything we do in our lives. From the garden in your back yard to the factory across town. Why? Well, because of stormwater. Stormwater runoff happens when rainfall and melting snow flows over the ground surface and picks up nutrients (and everything else) with it. This water inevitably makes its way into our lakes, rivers, and oceans. Stormwater runoff is crucial when it comes to keeping our waters clean. And although corporations play a large part in nutrient pollution, our actions can make a difference too.
According to Zachary Little of the Stormwater Committee of Rollinsford,
Communities tend to gather around water bodies, and so our individual actions accumulate. Neglecting our dog waste, our septic systems, our lawns and gardens – we collectively overload the system very easily. The good news is that public awareness works the same way – every drop of individual responsibility and understanding travels from one person to another, and collects quickly. That’s why municipalities and the EPA emphasize public education – so that when the beach is closed, you know why, and work to prevent it happening in the future.”
So, what can we do?
Zac has helped us compile a list on how we can keep our waterways clean.
1. Get your septic tank pumped every 3-5 years
New Hampshire has reported that half of all households in the state use individual septic systems. This means that they are not always managed properly. Septic tanks that are not properly pumped overflow, this waste is washed away by stormwater and water runoff, eventually leading into our waterways.
2. Dispose of yard waste
Yard waste (often called vegetative waste) includes leaves, grass clippings, tree trimmings, and other organic plant matter. Yard waste contributes to lake aging by creating sediment and adding excess nutrients to lakes. Yard waste can also contribute to Phosphorus blooms, another harmful nutrient bloom. The best way to properly dispose of yard waste is to check your local New Hampshire city website for collection days.
3. Properly dispose of pet waste
Pet food is made up of many different kinds of nutrients, so when these nutrients are left on our yards or sidewalks, they, like everything else, get picked up by stormwater and end up in our lakes. So, next time you take your dog for a walk, be sure to bring that baggy with you!
Store bought fertilizer is packed with nutrients for our plants. Unfortunately, most of these nutrients aren’t used by plants but sit in the soil. Stormwater washes these extra nutrients right out of the soil and into our waterways. Although commercial farming is much guiltier than we are at home, there are still options for alternative fertilizers. And if you’re thinking… this girl is going to talk about composting again… you would be right! I know, I know, but hear me out. Composting is the most natural version of fertilizer that you can use and is ultimately better than store bought fertilizer because it holds less chemicals.
5. Support, volunteer & donate
Local organizations like the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (LRCT) and the New Hampshire Lakes Association, are working to keep our water clean and have protected shorelines of New Hampshire since 1979 and 1992 respectively. The LRCT has saved 34 miles of NH shorelines alone. Additionally, you can reach out to your local conservation group.
If you think your community may be affected by nutrient pollution or even worse, algal blooms, you can reach out to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. You can even apply for a grant to help your community!