The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) protects the state's surface waters through its active lakes and rivers monitoring programs for physical, chemical, biological and habitat parameters. During the year, NHDES conducts thousands of water analyses on state waters, including those used for drinking water, as well as those receiving industrial and municipal wastewater effluents. The NHDES Watershed Management Bureau oversees lake and river volunteer monitoring programs, a public beach and swimming pool/spa inspection program, and an acid rain monitoring program. Every two years, the bureau reports on the quality of over 10,000 miles of rivers and over 160,000 acres of lakes every two years.
River and Stream Monitoring
NHDES initiated a rotating watershed monitoring program in 1989. At that time, the state was divided into three areas: 1) Connecticut River basin, 2) Merrimack River basin, and 3) Androscoggin, Saco, Piscataqua and Coastal River basins. The intent of dividing the state in this manner was to allow each basin to be sampled at least once every three years.
From 1989 to 1992, approximately 300 samples were collected from 100 stations each year. Included among these stations were the five National Water Quality Surveillance System (NWQSS) and twelve Primary Monitoring Network (PMN) trend stations which are located throughout the State. Since 1989, these seventeen trend monitoring stations have been sampled each year regardless of which basin was being focused on.
Parameters that are typically measured at each sampling station include:
E. coli, dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, pH, chlorophyll a, BOD, alkalinity, hardness, metals (aluminum, copper, lead, zinc), turbidity, total solids, total suspended solids, nitrate, ammonia, total kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN), and total phosphorus.
From 1993 to 1996, the regular rotating basin sampling program was changed in order to focus on waterbodies that had shown potential water quality violations. The goal was to: 1) verify if water quality exceedances, based on limited data, were violating state standards, 2) identify the cause of the violation, and 3) eliminate or abate surface water quality violations. In 1997, NHDES resumed the rotating basin sampling program.
NHDES operates a number of lake monitoring programs. The overall goal is to assess current conditions and trends in order to determine if the existing regulatory framework is sufficient to protect lake water quality or, conversely, if new controls are needed.
Lake surveys are conducted each year on a number of lakes. The lakes are sampled, in both the winter and summer, for various physical, chemical, and biological parameters (pH, alkalinity, apparent color, specific conductance, chloride, sulfate, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, total phosphorus, total kjeldahl nitrogen, nitrate, nitrogen, E. coli, phytoplankton, zooplankton, chlorophyll, Secchi disk, macrophytes, dissolved oxygen/temperature profile, and bathymetry). The data provides information on current baseline conditions, long-term trends, and water quality compliance, and is used to classify the lakes according to trophic condition. The surveys also provide information on acid rain impacts and aquatic nuisance and exotic weed distributions. Thirty to forty lakes are currently surveyed annually.
The acid rain-lake outlet monitoring program samples twenty accessible lake outlets twice each year, during the spring and fall overturn, for acid rain related parameters (pH, alkalinity, nitrate, sulfate, conductivity, color, chloride, calcium, and aluminum). Both short and long-term trends of the impacts of acid rain on non-remote lakes are documented.
Acid rain-remote pond monitoring is conducted each spring of the surface water of a number of inaccessible remote trout ponds. This is done by helicopter in conjunction with the NH Fish and Game Department's fish stocking program. A total of 57 different lakes have been sampled since 1981, and a core of approximately 20 are sampled each year for pH, alkalinity, nitrate, sulfate, conductivity, color, chloride, calcium, and aluminum. The program provides short and long-term trend data on acid rain impacts to remote ponds.
Lake sediment monitoring consists of collecting sediment cores. The cores are analyzed for heavy metal concentrations as well as phosphorus. The program provides information on historical levels of metals in the sediment and will relate metal levels with external factors such as motor boat activity, urban runoff, and acid rain. The number of cores collected varies each year based on available resources.
Beach monitoring occurs at over 160 public bathing beaches throughout the State once or twice a year during the summer recreational season for E. coli bacteria. The data determines compliance with bacterial standards for swimming areas and trends in bacterial levels.
Instream Macroinvertebrate/Fish Monitoring
Biosassessments typically examine species richness, species composition, population size and trophic composition of resident aquatic organisms. Such information may help to reveal if aquatic organisms are adversely impacted by the integrated effects of different pollutant stressors over long periods.
In 1995, NHDES received a grant from the EPA to initiate a long-term biological monitoring program in the State of New Hampshire. The NHDES biomonitoring program utilizes GIS-based information in order to select non-impacted or "reference" sites as well as impacted or "impaired" sites each year. Potential sites are selected based on road density, population statistics, adjacent land uses, and proximity to facilities such as wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and state/federal superfund sites. Sites are then randomly selected out of the candidate pool. Approximately 150 "reference" sites have been biologically assessed since 1995 and some "stressor" sites are beginning to be selected in order to have a complete range of water quality conditions in New Hampshire for development of numerical biological criteria. The biomonitoring program routinely collects three specific types of data; biological data, habitat data, and physical/chemical data.
Two aquatic communities are assessed for the biological data component: fish and macroinvertebrates. The two communities provide an overlap on assessing ecological health and have the ability to reveal particular "stressors" (i.e. flow) that may be exclusive of one particular group. The fish community is included as it is a useful tool for assessing bioaccumulative effects of contaminants and is something that the general public can relate to.
As part of the biomonitoring program, water quality parameters such as dissolved oxygen, acid neutralizing capacity, pH, temperature, nutrients, and conductivity are also routinely tested. Other measurements and analyses are taken as deemed necessary.
Malformed frog monitoring was initiated in 1998 and occurs throughout the state with assistance from volunteer monitors. NHDES holds training workshops at selected locations throughout the state to train volunteers on procedures to collect and analyze frogs for malformations. Through 2001 a total of 92 frog surveys, representing 6683 individual frogs, have been conducted by NHDES staff or by citizen volunteers.
Fish tissue monitoring monitoring in the state is coordinated by NHDES and includes the use of volunteers and cooperative projects with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the NH Fish and Game Department. Fish analyses for mercury are primarily conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Public Health Services Laboratory, and the risk to public health from fish consumption is determined by the Risk Assessment Bureau of DDHS. Fish tissue analyses are typically done in surface waters where there is a perceived or potential problem, although a routine program exists for fish mercury concentrations in all surface waters. Other analyses may be conducted for special studies.
Water quality information collected by volunteers is a valuable addition to NHDES monitoring programs. The volunteers usually live in close proximity to the waterbody they monitor and possess an intimate knowledge of the history and present condition of the watershed area. Volunteers alert NHDES of water quality threats and potential violations for investigation. Volunteer data is used to gain an idea of water quality at times and locations not covered by NHDES sampling programs. With rigorous training and appropriate quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC), volunteer data can supplement the ambient sampling program and help build a strong set of baseline data statewide. Volunteer monitoring can result in the early detection of water quality changes, allowing NHDES to trace potential problems to their source before a more severe impact occurs.
New Hampshire's volunteer lake assessment program (VLAP) http://www.des.state.nh.us/wmb/vlap/ monitors an estimated 130 lakes every year. There is flexibility with what is sampled and how often it is sampled. Volunteer monitors carry out multiple tests at the deepest spot in their lake (or on large lakes in multiple basins), and test any flowing streams that feed or drain the lake. Monitors test the lake anywhere from 1 to 6 times per summer, with an average of three sampling events. The VLAP coordinator or an intern visit each lake once per summer to train/retrain the volunteers and conduct sampling with them. During the annual visit, two additional tests are performed. These additional tests are dissolved oxygen and plankton haul. The volunteers' samples include:
At the lake's deepest point:
transparency, turbidity, pH, conductivity, total phosphorus, acid neutralizing capacity, and chlorophyll-a;
At the tributaries and outlets: turbidity, pH, conductivity, and total phosphorus; and
Other: E. coli.
All of the samples are kept on ice and transported by the volunteers to NHDES in Concord within 24 hours of collection. The samples are then analyzed by biologists at the NHDES Limnology Center.
Beginning in 1995, NHDES through the Volunteer Lakes Monitoring Program requested
volunteers to freeze fish they had caught and to bring the fish to NHDES. The fish are then turned over to DHHS for mercury analyses in fillets.
New Hampshire's Clean Lakes Program is designed to protect lakes from aquatic nuisances and restore lakes that have aquatic nuisance growths. The program has several parts. It includes an
exotic weed control program that is designed to manage existing infestations of exotic plants and to prevent the spread of non-native weeds into New Hampshire's lakes. Matching grants are made available to the public for the management of existing exotic plant growths. The public education component includes a Weed Watchers program that consists of volunteer lake residents maintaining a constant awareness of any new or unusual plant growth in the lake. The Clean Lakes program also includes the investigation and resolution of non-exotic aquatic nuisances, investigation of alleged water quality violations, and when funds are available, assistance in conducting lake diagnostic studies on VLAP lakes.
New Hampshire's Volunteer River Assessment Program (VRAP) The huge success and popularity of VLAP served as a model for the Volunteer River Assessment Program (VRAP). In 1998, NHDES initiated VRAP to complement VLAP.
VRAP is an educational and technical assistance program designed to support and coordinate volunteer monitoring of New Hampshire rivers. The main goals of VRAP are as follows:
- To educate the public about rivers and water quality;
- To organize groups to monitor water quality according to their goals;
- To provide monitoring guidelines, equipment loans, and technical training;
- To standardize data collection and management; and
- To report results and recommendations to volunteers.
VRAP aims to offer volunteer groups assistance with general organization, cooperative goal formation, study design, sampling site selection, technical training and equipment loans for river monitoring. VRAP assists existing watershed associations, local river management advisory committees and other established river groups in New Hampshire that have implemented volunteer river monitoring programs, and supports new monitoring efforts. The education and outreach activities of the program are intended to foster a greater sense of responsibility towards water resource management among schools, businesses, local governments and individuals.
VRAP loans meters and provides training for volunteers to measure dissolved oxygen, air and water temperature, pH, turbidity, and specific conductance. The program typically recommends that these parameters are tested every other week during June, July, and August to provide baseline data throughout the season. The sampling is conducted rain or shine and volunteers record the current and previous three days' weather conditions as well as characteristics of the site and any comments they feel important. Additional analyses may be supplemented by NHDES and groups are encouraged to apply for funding to cover the cost of parameters such as bacteria, nutrients and metals.