Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Where the High Water Is

I don't know that I have written enough about, or even at all about Willand Pond. This pond, which crosses the Dover/Somersworth line, is a gem of a pond. I say that both in the environmental sense as well as the social/recreation sense. If you have not had the pleasure of walking along the banks or boating (non-gasoline powered) in the body, I encourage you to please take that opportunity.

Willand Pond was the hub of both domestic water production for Dover and recreation for Dover and Somersworth 100 years ago. At that time the land along the pond was used as both Central (later Burgett) Park in Somersworth, a horse race track (in Dover and Somersworth) and several camps along the bank on the Dover side. This area was accessible by many forms of transit, including an electric trolley car (a little known fact is that New Rochester Road is a former trolley car line).

As life progressed drinking water was drawn from the aquifer around the pond and eventually from the pond itslef. This practice went on from the late 1800s until the mid 1960s. In the late 1960s the well production moved from surface water to subsurface and was ultimately ceased in the 1970s. This was a result of the drilling of bedrock wells that were given to the City by the Federal Government after Pease Airforce Base began to use the Madbury Reservoir. While Dover pumped water out of the aquifer the water elevation level was artificially controlled and at a reasonable level.

At the end of the 70s, the Pond was the object of discussion as Dover and Somersworth as the two communities founded a joint Conservation Commission to oversee activities around the pond and limit growth and development. The main outcome that came out of those efforts was an agreement to create a recreational space along the shores of the Pond. By the early 2000s that space was in place on land owned along the shore by both Communities.

A lot can be said about the elevated water levels and nutrient loading at Willand Pond, but what I'd like to focus on here is the cooperation that the trouble that began in the later half of the decade has spawned. Because of the impairment of the water, Dover and Somersoworth staff and citizens have worked closer and communicated more regarding Willand Pond than anytime I can find evidence of, including the late 1970s.

Staff have met and worked on amendments to regulations to curb growth and limit stormwater runoff into the pond. There is now a policy in place, in both cities, whereby development along the shores of the pond triggers immediate notice to both Citys' planning staff.

Probably more important, though, has been the increase in awareness and public activity at the pond. The Friends of Willand Pond has begun as a group late last year, and continues to meet monthly as they develop a strategy for promoting the positive aspects of the pond. This group is not created by either City, and is citizen driven and supported.

A goal of the group is to celebrate Willand Pond, and they are working towards creating a Willand Pond festival day this fall. Additionally, the group hopes to be an advocate for the pond, in every sense of the word. They are active in water quality monitoring, receive weekly water elevations and are also interested in educating the public about the trails around the pond.

In many times we hear that government is a solution in search of a problem. In the case of Willand Pond, the problem, water impairment, has produced three solutions that are going to benefit Dover in the long run much more than the impaired waters hurts the City in the short run. The first success is the closer coordination between Dover and Somersworth. The second continues to be the proactive understanding that the public should be involved in the process of planning and preserving the gems around us. The final benefit/success is the potential to reutilize Willand Pond as a drinking water source. Communities need drinking water. Dover has been lucky to have enough, but we are luckier to have found a potential source for future needs. A bonus is that we might be able to affect the water elevations at the same time.

Yes folks, what's old is new again, and thankfully we have the wisdom as a community to grasp the opportunity and be proactive to be positive for our future. Geeze, that sounds like good planning to me.

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