CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — It's coming around again to that time of the year for the rocket's red glare.
But some folks who live on Spofford Lake or enjoy its crystal clear waters on a regular basis are asking their neighbors to dial back on their fireworks displays this Fourth of July.
"We are hearing more and more about the quality of life of those who live on the lake," said Jon McKeon, chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen. "But we are also concerned about the water quality and the health of the lake. It's the major physical asset to the town and to the surrounding towns. This lake is used by many people."
At a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, Sandy Harris, whose family's connection to the lake runs generations deep, asked the board to declare the area around Spofford Lake a "fireworks free zone."
"I don't want to prevent people from having their fun, but sometimes this goes on and on every night," said Harris, whose family has owned property on the lake since the 1860s.
According to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, chemicals in fireworks include lead nitrate, barium, lithium, rubidium, strontium, copper, aluminum and cadmium; many of those chemicals give fireworks their vivid colors.
"Altogether, the damaging effect fireworks have is overwhelming," notes DES. "They impact water quality by effecting the odor and taste of drinking water. On the economic side, excessive algal and cyanobacteria growth due to phosphorus or contamination due to firework fallout increases water treatment costs, degrades fishing and boating activities, and impacts tourism and property values. The cost of damage done to property, the litter and the effect upon both wildlife and human life
In Chesterfield, like many towns around the Granite State, there are no ordinances regulating the use of fireworks, or even their cleanup after they are fired off, and on Spofford Lake, many of the consumer fireworks that are fired off during the July 4th holiday are exploded over the lake, meaning all the packaging and chemicals ends up in the crystal waters.
During the meeting at which Harris presented her concerns to the Board of Selectmen, McKeon noted that it's time to develop a fireworks ordinance for the town, and especially for Spofford Lake. But, because any ordinance requires a public hearing, there is no practical way that ordinance could be in force by Independence Day this year.
"We have received complaints from people about the quality of life on the lake and the excessive noise of fireworks this time of the year," McKeon told the Reformer. "We have been looking at what a lot of towns have done, what has worked for them and we hope to learn from what their failures and successes have been. There will be some pushback. Everyone want to protect their rights, but we are trying to look at the rights of everyone, and not just the few."
But while fireworks contamination on Spofford Lake is just one of the most visible threats to its water quality, noted McKeon, there are other threats the town needs to address.
"We recently received a grant from the state for a drainage and watershed study conducted by the Southwest Region Planning Commission in the hopes of eliminating siltation and other chemicals people use around the lake on their lawns," he said.
New Hampshire's Shoreland Protection Act was enacted into law in the 1991 session of the Legislature. The act establishes minimum standards for the subdivision, use and development of shorelands adjacent to the state's public water bodies. It was updated in 2008 to include provisions limiting impervious surfaces for driveways and sidewalks, regulation of septic tanks and protection of waterfront buffers to include limiting vegetation removal from shorelines.
Pam Walton, a former member of the Spofford Lake Association, volunteers to sample the lake's waters and is also a member of the lake's informal "weed watchers," which aims to prevent the introduction of invasive plants to Spofford Lake. She would also like to see a fireworks banned around the lake, adding Spofford Lake is virtually under assault from increasing usage by more and more people.
"The lake is used 12 months a year now," said Walton. "We are building up nutrient material in the lake which makes more weeds grow. Those decompose and we get algae and bacteria. Our oxygen saturation is decreasing. Significant changes must take place if we want to save the lake and bring it back to where it was before."
Walton said in addition to regulating the usage of land around the lake, people who are concerned about it also need to take proactive steps, such as installing rain gardens to catch runoff and allow it to seep into the ground rather than going straight into the lake.
Spofford Lake is classified by the state as a Class A lake, meaning you could dip a cup right in the lake and drink it without treatment. Just the same, Harris said she has had to install filtration devices on the water supply to her cottages out of concern for what kinds of chemicals she, her family and her customers might be ingesting as a result of the fireworks. And she is also concerned about the quality of life along the lake, not just the water quality.
Tom O'Brien, the president of the New Hampshire Lakes Association, said the use of fireworks around the state's lakes has been a topic of discussion for quite some time.
"There are people who believe that fireworks can cause a level of water pollution and there are other people who don't believe that," said O'Brien. "And we are also faced with how sacred the activity is and its tradition at that location and at that time."
O'Brien said the NHLA's membership is also split on the issue, so it doesn't make much sense to push for state-wide legislation regulating the use of fireworks around water bodies. Instead, the NHLA works with towns and landowners to educate people on how best to protect their lakes and what types of ordinances might be most efficient to address any particular problem.
"We encourage people to come up with alternate approaches other than exploding fireworks over the water, maybe in an open field," said O'Brien.
But using fireworks in a field, rather than over a lake, is no different if people don't clean up after themselves. That's because, said O'Brien, the greatest threat to water quality throughout the state, the country and the world is runoff. "Whatever it encounters on its way to the lake, it carries to the lake," he said. "We are very concerned with what people do on their properties around water. If they are not careful, whatever they do will have a direct effect on water quality."
Harris, who does not allow her guests to use fireworks on her property, said people who shoot off fireworks may live on the lake year-round, may summer there or are only coming up for a weekend or two. "People do it for entertainment,. It lands in the lake and they don't have to pick it up and it floats to everyone's shoreline. We are trying to preserve the lake and take of the lake and its beaches."
O'Brien admitted the situation around Spofford Lake may be one of the toughest in the state to find solutions for because of the number of homes along the shore and the number of people who utilize the lake every year. But O'Brien said the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen might have a pretty good argument in support of a ban on fireworks around the lake. "When you do the math, a significant amount of property tax revenue comes from homes along the lake." If water quality is degraded or the quality of life around the lake goes down, property values could also drop, meaning a drop in tax revenues.
"We would prefer that people respect the quiet and the bucolic experience people most often seek when living, visiting or staying around a lake," said O'Brien. "The hardest thing in all of what we do is having conversations with each other, with neighbors we may not know well or may have a difficult history with."
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.