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  • 1 Feb 2021 2:45 PM | Anonymous
    By Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer  Feb 1, 2021 

    CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — Last summer was an especially dry summer around the region, leaving many boat owners on Lake Spofford high and, if not dry, kind of muddy.

    “Anybody in the channel area and many folks around the lake suffered from the low water level,” said John Zannotti, who asked the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday to reconsider how it adjusts the lake level at Spofford each year. “Some people couldn’t even get their boats into their boathouses.”

    Zannotti said that in August he had to move his boat out of the channel because it was impossible to get it from the dock to the main lake without churning up the bottom. 

    “We had a situation,” he said, asking the board to consider a way of striking a balance between protecting the lake and preserving its recreational use. 

    The level of Spofford Lake is adjusted by installing or taking out boards at a dam that feeds into Partridge Brook. 

    Zannotti, who reviewed almost 10 years of board minutes, said the board and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services reached an agreement in 2002 to keep the lake level 14 inches below the abutment of the dam, or an elevation of 716 feet and 10 inches. 

    But, noted Zannotti, the starting point of the lake level in 2020 was set by the Board of Selectmen at 17.5 inches below the abutment, which means because of the summer drought, Spofford Lake never reached the level agreed upon in 2002. 

    Between Aug. 18 and Sept. 16, said Zannotti, the lake dropped two-and-a-half inches, to nine inches below the agreed upon level. 

    The low level led to a skegging, or dragging the rear of the boat or the propeller in the lake bottom, especially along the channel, the area of the lake leading up to the dam, and other areas where the lake is shallow even when full. 

    Zannotti noted that board minutes for mid-2020 state the board height was set at 17.5 inches below the abutment with no discussion noted. Zannotti said this was not unusual in other minutes he reviewed. 

    “What I haven’t seen for the last 10 years is any kind of discussion at the board,” he said. “Since we’re talking about the jewel of the town there should be some discussion, some process which evaluates the ecological issues and balance against the recreational desires of so many people in town.” 

    Zannotti said that in a normal year, Spofford Lake can expect between three and four inches of rain through June, July and August. 

    “We didn’t get any rain,” he said. But, he added, if it had been a normal rain year, the lake level would still have been two inches low.

    “The starting point of 17.5 inches was clearly a major contributor,” said Zannotti.

    By the end of the summer, it was difficult to launch boats from docks, boathouses and the lake’s launching ramps, where boaters often had to motor onto their trailers, which can cause damage to both the boat and the lake bottom.

    “I can’t imagine that that is good for the lake,” said Zannotti.

    Mike Gold, who lives next door to Wares Grove Beach, said swimmers at the beach didn’t have much water to swim in as the summer progressed.

    “Bathers went well past the markers to get deep enough water to enjoy, thus putting themselves in the heart of the boat traffic lane,” he said, saying water was barely waist deep at the markers.

    “It never seemed a day went by when a boat did not run aground while coming in to Wares Grove,” he added.

    Liz Pelkey, who lives on the north shore with her husband, Kevin, said they had to use the last tie-down on their 40-foot dock because otherwise, “We were in the muck.”

    In their family’s 70 years on the lake, said Pelkey, the lake has never been this low.

    She said it’s not just a problem on the shoreline, but also out in the lake, where safely submerged rocks at locations such as Harris Point, Turtleback and Whaleback are getting closer to the bottoms of boats. After hitting a rock at Whaleback, she said, she contacted N.H. Marine Patrol, which sent a pair of officers who eventually moved the markers to note the increased danger.

    Pelkey said officers with the N.H. Marine Patrol mentioned they had not seen this particular problem before and that the lake “was definitely a hazard” for people who weren’t familiar with it.

    LAKE SEDIMENT    Gary Winn, who was leading the meeting with Chairwoman Jeanny Aldrich out, noted he was not on the board when the decision was made about the lake level. However, he said the board received a study of the lake sediment last year that was commissioned by the Spofford Lake Association and conducted by the Dr. Lisa Doner, masters student William Tifft, and Plymouth State University’s Sedimentology Lab. Wynn said the board considered the report when it made its decision last year about lowering the lake level.

    The team collected four sediment cores from Spofford Lake, ranging between 25 and 53 feet long, dating back about 300 years.

    The report notes that in the last 40 years, the sediment has changed from mostly sand to sand and organic material washed away from the shore of the lake by increased water levels. Turbulence and waves created by boats and small personal watercraft also contribute to shoreline erosion, states the report.

    The increase in runoff from the basin that surrounds the lake and the type of materials being washed into the lake at the shore have contributed to low oxygen levels in the lake, states the report.

    And last summer, Spofford Lake experienced a cyanobacteria bloom, linked to a type of black algae that grows at the bottom of lakes. Certain conditions can cause the algae to detach from the bottom and float to the surface.

    “[T]here has been a distinct and prolonged trend towards more organic material in the accumulating sediments after A.D. 1910, and after A.D. 1980 the amount of organic material reaching the lake bottom exceeds that of any prior time period,” states the report. “[T]he increase in organic deposition is associated with increases in anoxia and reducing conditions in the deep basin ...”

    While Spofford Lake is mostly spring fed, it does receive some input from a small number of the brooks and streams. But those are not the sources of most of the material coming into the lake. Now it is coming from the entire basin surrounding the lake, and that sediment is rich in nutrients, notes the report.

    “These ancient soils are normally buried and protected from erosion,” states the report.

    Due to development around the lake, the sediment gets washed down from the hills and settles on the banks of the lake, eventually getting washed in by waves, contributing to de-oxygenation.

    WAVE ENERGY

    “Along the lake shore ... deep soil layers are continuously exposed and eroded by waves and can supply material to the lake along the entire length of shoreline,” states the report.

    Many New Hampshire lakes have developed “armored” shorelines, beaten by wind-driven waves, leaving behind bedrock ledges or a surface layer of boulders and cobbles, states the report.

    “Human activities, however, have altered the natural distribution of wave energy along lakes all over the world,” states the report.

    A 2013 report issued by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation notes that the natural low water level of the lake is at 711.6 feet elevation, more than five feet below the high-water level set in 2002.

    “[L]ake levels have been artificially high by damming for over 100 years,” states the sediment report.

    With a high water level, the entire perimeter of the lake is susceptible to erosion of nutrient rich soils.

    In addition to the natural waves battering the shore during high lake level conditions, following 1980 there was a boom in the use of low-cost watercraft, in particular, small personal watercraft like Jet Skis.

    “Sustained wind speeds of 20 mph can create wave heights on a lake three feet, about the size of a motorboat boat wake travelling at full speed,” states the report. “But wind waves only impact the armored, downwind shores of the lake while boat wakes can impact every shore, most of which are highly vulnerable to wave action. Personal watercraft, in particular, can travel in shallow water at relatively high speeds, causing wakes that travel up onto the fragile shores, directly hitting soils, and exposing roots of tree and shoreline shrubs.”

    Bayard Tracy, the chairman of the Spofford Lake Association, said the summer of 2020 was one of the three driest since 1960.

    “The lake is a bowl,” he said. “If it rains, we can’t get the water out of the lake fast enough. That’s why we want to run this a little lean.”

    High water can cause even more damage to the fragile shoreline, he said.

    “Erosion is a big problem,” said Tracy. “It has changed the character of the lake over the past 40 years.”

    Tracy told the Reformer before the meeting that when the board set the lake level in 2020, it was acknowledging the challenges outlined in the core sediment report.

    “When they put this in, they didn’t know what the weather would be,” said Tracy. “It made a lot of sense.”

    Tracy said people are “loving the lake to death,” with 6,800 boat launches last year, an increase of 22 percent over the previous year.

    “We did have a pandemic,” he said. “It’s understandable people want to get out on the lake. But still, there comes a point with a lake this size, it gets stressed and starts to change.”

    He also noted that boats skegging could also be a result of too much sediment being washed into the lake, filling it in slowly.

    “And when you lose 10 inches of water level, which is what happened last summer, it makes a huge difference,” said Tracy.

    The town is developing a steep slopes overlay, which is aimed at protecting the lake by imposing stringent regulations on development on the hills above it.

    “This steep slopes thing should have been done 20 years ago,” Pam Walton, a former chairwoman of the SLA, told the Reformer before the meeting. “Without that, this lake is going to continue to have problems.”

    At the close of his presentation, Zannotti suggested the board take more seriously the lake level and not adjust the dam without discussion.

    “The board should be proactive in managing the lake level throughout the summer,” he said.

    He also asked the board to consider producing a boater safety pamphlet that explains what the town expects from users of the lake, including the 150-foot no wake zone, which is designed to protect swimmers and people in canoes and kayaks, as well as the shoreline from erosion.

    “Education is probably a good first step,” he said.

    Wynn said the board will be looking at the issue “on a more formal basis “ in the future.

  • 26 Jan 2021 2:36 PM | Anonymous

    by Bob Audette of the Brattleboro Reformer, January 26, 2021

    CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — The first ever “ice out” lottery on Spofford Lake is raising money for both the Spofford Lake Association and the Chesterfield Historical Society. 

    “This is just a contest to have some fun and keep the Lake Association and the Historical Society in the top of the mind when everything is closed up for the weather and for pandemic reasons,” said Bayard Tracy, president the board of directors of the SLA. 

    Lottery tickets are $10 each and predictions are being taken on the SLA’s website at spoffordlakeassociation.org/ICE-OUT-LOTTERY-PAGE. 

    The deadline for entries is Feb. 15 and if there is more than one entry for the winning date, a single winner will be selected by a random drawing conducted by a special committee, which will also make the determination of the official ice out day. 

    “It’s not scientific, but ice out is the day you can cross the lake without encountering any ice,” said Tracy, who noted members of the committee will not be able to enter the contest. 

    To be exact, states the SLA’s website, “Consistent with previous precedent for state reporting, this will be the first date on which there is no visible ice anywhere on the lake surface, at 2:00 o’clock in the afternoon.” 

    But by noon on Tuesday, the lake wasn’t totally frozen over. Tracy said there is a hole in the ice where one hasn’t been seen before. Tracy said a hole in the mostly frozen lake surface was visible late into the winter last year as well, but that has not historically been the case. 

    “It’s new in the last two years,” said Tracy. 

    Pam Walton, who was the SLA’s treasurer and secretary for about six years, said the hole is slightly north of the center of the lake, near a spot that is about 60 feet deep. 

    “I can’t find anyone who’s ever noticed an ice hole on the lake prior to last year,” said Walton. “Today [Jan. 25] the temperature is 10 degrees and the hole remains open water.” 

    According to information from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, when deeper, warmer water moves toward the surface it can prevent freezing, creating areas of open water. 

    Other factors include turbulent currents, methane bubbles from decomposing organic materials, and warm groundwater bubbling up from an aquifer. 

    Tracy said it’s uncertain what has caused the ice hole these past two years, but noted there have been changes to the lake over the years and there was a cyanobacteria bloom last year. The bloom was linked to a type of cyanobacteria that grows at the bottom of lakes. Certain conditions can cause the algae to detach from the bottom and float to the surface and decaying algae can also produce methane. 

    According to the director of the state’s beach program and harmful algal and cyanobacterial bloom program, the cyanobacteria that showed up on the surface of the lake might have been growing on the bottom for many years and some sort of disturbance detached it to rise to the surface. 

    Tracy said Spofford Lake is predominantly spring fed, with some inflow from winter runoff and rain storms. The lake also has a remarkably low flushing rate of .2 percent, he said. 

    “Every drop of water that goes into the lake takes five years to leave the lake,” said Tracy. “If you have a very low flushing rate, sediment coming into the lake is not going to be moved out. It will stay there. The same thing is true for pollutants. There is no natural process to flush it out.” 

    Most of the water loss at Lake Spofford is due to surface evaporation. Some of the water flows out of the lake’s spillway, at its eastern edge, into Partridge Brook. 

    Two years ago, Dr. Lisa Doner, masters student William Tifft, and Plymouth State University’s Sedimentology Lab collected four sediment cores from Spofford Lake, two near where the ice hole is located and two between Pierce Island and the lake’s southern shore. The cores ranged between 25 and 53 feet long. 

    “In the deep basin of Spofford Lake, concentrations of [iron, manganese, and molybdenum] progressively increase above background levels starting shortly after settlement in A.D. 1660, after A.D. 1775 and 1830, after A.D. 1925 and more sharply after A.D. 1955, with the highest rate of increase after A.D. 1985,” states the final report. “At each of these inflection points, Spofford Lake’s bottom waters would have become less oxygenated over longer intervals. Many of these transitions are coincident with significant climate and land use changes and watershed development.” 

    Tracy said the report revealed sediment flowing into the lake has increased as development around the lake has increased. 

    “More sediment at the lake bottom has occurred since 1980 than in any 40-year period over the past 300 years,” he said. “I can’t draw a straight line, but I can tell you the lake is filling in and we know that development creates runoff into the lake.” 

    That increased sediment, piling up on the bottom of the lake, might also be contributing to the ice hole in the lake, he said. The water from the springs that feed Spofford Lake might be bubbling up somewhere other than in the past. 

    The report notes that in the last 40 years, the nature of the sediment has changed from mostly sand to organic material washed away from the shore of the lake by increased water levels. Turbulence and waves created by boats and small personal watercraft also contribute to shoreline erosion, states the report. In response, two years ago, the Board of Selectmen agreed to lower the level of the lake by adjusting the boards at the spillway at Partridge Brook. 

    The increase in runoff from the basin that surrounds the lake and the type of materials being washed into the lake at the shore have contributed to low oxygen levels in the lake. 

    “This is a small lake, 739 acres, and it’s in a bowl,” he said. 

    Part of the reason for the “Ice Out” lottery is to also draw attention to the lake’s condition, said Tracy. 

    “The hole in the ice has come up completely at random, but it does point to the changes at the lake,” he said. 

    Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com. 

    Bob Audette Reporter 

    Bob Audette has been reporting for the Brattleboro Reformer since 2005. 


  • 29 May 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    Last fall the DES funded an $80,000 grant to help shoreline property owners reduce their stormwater runoff. The grant will pay for consultants’ planning expenses and materials which could include plants, shrubs, stone, soil, mulch, gutters, rain barrels, etc. The property owner then supply the volunteer labor or hired labor to complete the project.

    Earlier this spring, members of FB Environmental visited nine properties on the Lake as a first step in this grant process. They will provide recommendations for land owners to make changes on their property that when completed will reduce the amount of stormwater that runs into the lake, getting us closer to the goals set in the Watershed Management Plan.

    For this first round the grant 9 properties were selected that will have the greatest impact when improvements are made. The SLA will continue to apply for the 319 grant each year to involve more and more property owners.


Spofford Lake Association
PO Box 177
Spofford NH, 03462 USA

info@SpoffordLakeAssociation.org

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