NH LAKES Faulted for Lobbying for Watercraft Limits While Taking State Funds for Lake Host Program

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Paula Tracy photo

Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, DES Commissioner Bob Scott and Gov. Chris Sununu are pictured at last week's Governor and Executive Council meeting.


CONCORD – The New Hampshire Lakes Association was called to task for its advocacy of bills that one Executive Councilor said is intended to limit watercraft and enjoyment of the water while taking a contract with the state to protect lakes in its Lake Host program.

After lengthy debate after last week’s meeting in which Republican Councilor Joe Kenney threatened to vote against it, the Executive Council unanimously approved the almost $300,000 contract with the organization for this summer’s Lake Host program.

But it was not before Kenney said he had a problem “with an organization that is taking money and promoting elimination of an activity. I just have a hard time supporting that.” 

Gov. Chris Sununu agreed.

While a bill to change the law related to personal watercraft (or jet skis) was killed in committee at the sponsor’s request, several bills to protect lakes from damage from wakesurfing are moving forward to the House of Representatives likely next week for a vote. 

NH LAKES officials and others argued that propulsion from such vessels in shallows is worse than a boat propeller and churns up more sediment making the lake more susceptible to degradation.

The Lake Host Program which is run by the charitable non-profit NH LAKES, a 501 (c) (3), is the only statewide organization that advocates for lakes, partnering with more than 60 lake associations across the state.

For decades it has operated the Lake Host program, what it calls “the line of first defense” to protect the introduction of milfoil and other aquatic invasive species into lakes at boat ramps across the state during the summer months.

Over the years the hundreds of lake hosts have made many “saves” by pulling the invasives off trailers and boat propellers before they enter the water, thus protecting more than 300 lakes where they work.

State Rep. Rosemarie Rung, D-Merrimack, who was sponsor of the personal watercraft bill https://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/bill_status/billinfo.aspx?id=1106&inflect=2 said she urged the House Resources Recreation and Development committee to kill her bill due what she called misinformation being spread by opponents that the bill intended to eliminate jet skis or personal watercraft.

She said it was about updating the language of state law on personal watercraft and it would not have automatically changed any existing rules relative to bans or allowed use. Instead, she said she plans to work on the issue piece by piece in the future as she expects this to be the worst summer ever for the development of cyanobacteria, a blue green algae that can kill dogs and sicken humans is becoming more noticeable on lakes that are impacted by turbidity. 

The RR&D Committee unanimously agreed last week to recommend her bill inexpedient to legislate. It would have changed the definition for personal watercraft to allow for the multiple seat versions, but it would not have automatically changed the rules now in place which prohibit such use and were petitioned by communities surrounding the lake, Rung said.

After listening to a recording of Kenney’s comments during the council meeting, Rung said the councilor’s words on NH LAKES were wrong and that she was “amazed that an elected official would take such a stance” without fully understanding the work the organization does collectively with more than 60 lake associations to protect the state’s almost 1,000 water bodies. 

Rung said lake value to the state should not just be defined by tourism dollars and recreation but for water quality, shoreline degradation and property values and more and that with this mis-information and others being spread by opponents of her bill “just muddied the waters” on the issue. 

“New Hampshire Lakes (Association) are the strongest advocates for lake recreation and lake health,” she said and noted it and its sister lake associations are often aligned with her legislation to protect water quality.

Andrea LaMoreaux, president and policy advocate for New Hampshire Lakes Association, said she was thankful that the Lake Host program will go forward this summer and that the contract was passed and noted there is no intermingling of funds between the program and advocacy.

Additionally, she wrote to members in a legislative update last week that “we’re tremendously grateful for all the time and thoughtful consideration the members of the RR&D Committee have invested over the past several weeks considering bills related to restoring and preserving the health of all our lakes.” 

In an email to InDepthNH.org asking for a reply to Kenney’s comments LaMoreaux wrote, “I assure you that NH LAKES does not have an objective of eliminating personal watercraft, wakesports, or any form of boating from New Hampshire’s lakes. 

“And, with respect to our aquatic invasive species prevention efforts, it’s quite the opposite—invasive species like milfoil can wrap around boat propellers, making boating activities difficult, unpleasant, and dangerous…Specially, the Lake Host courtesy boat inspection program helps support all forms of boating activities on all of New Hampshire’s lakes.”

But Kenney, a Republican from Wakefield whose district includes much of the northern half of the state, said the organization should not be trying to get in the way of people enjoying state-owned lakes as they wish including what some call “jet skis” but what is defined in law as “personal watercraft.”

Kenney was told by Department of Environmental Service officials that the issues of legislation and NHLA contract have nothing to do with each other and that there were no other bidders when the invasive protection program went out to bid.

The state’s lakes would be left vulnerable this summer if the contract was not signed, said Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, a Concord Democrat who is running for governor.

“I think this particular activity is important in protecting our lakes,” Warmington said.

Commissioner of Environmental Services Bob Scott and Rene Pelletier, DES water division director, agreed.

“It’s apples and oranges,” said Pelletier of the advocacy and the contract.

“All the money that we fund to them is for water quality,” he said.

HB 1390, relative to regulating wakeboarding and wakesports, brought out a large crowd at its public hearing in Representatives Hall. It will go forward to a vote, Rung said, likely next week. It brought out a large crowd for a public hearing with the watersports industry that sells these $100,000 crafts speaking in opposition.

According to the NH LAKES newsletter, “This bill, as originally introduced, establishes zones on our lakes where wakesports can be conducted to minimize negative impacts on the health of our lakes. It defines a wakesports zone as an area on a waterbody that has at least 50 contiguous acres of open water that are at least 500 feet from shore on all sides and is at least 20 feet deep. 

After a motion to kill the bill in committee was not passed, the bill was passed with an amendment on a vote of 13 to 7.

“The amendment reduces the originally proposed setback of 500 feet to 300 feet, keeps the minimum 50 acre requirement for the overall size of the lake, and removes the 20-foot minimum depth requirement,” it explained.

Kenney said last Wednesday at the council table he is fascinated where NH LAKES has been and where they are going and “where they are going is they want to eliminate motorized activity on our lakes. There is no doubt about it. If they are supporting legislation in the legislature that is going to take away personal watercraft and types of boating activity and probably ultimately boating, so yeah, if you want to eliminate any body going into the lake you are going to eliminate milfoil, perhaps, unless wildlife brings in milfoil from the sky or whatever, that I just think this organization should really stop and think about what they are doing because they are asking for public moneys for public lakes and at the same time they want to take away public enjoyment of that.”

Executive Councilor David Wheeler, a Milford Republican, asked if any other organization could do the work of the Lake Host?

Scott said they were the only bidder and this is specialized work.

Kenney said if there was a neutral group overseeing lakes, he would have no problem supporting the contract.

Pelletier said on the bills, it is not so much the milfoil issue, it is the size of the wakes being created by these craft and distance from shoreline and shoreline erosion which is different from crafts that use propellers.

He noted $9.50 on each boat registration goes to this milfoil eradication project.

“I heard them testify in the House,” he said of NH LAKES, “But my point is that the money we give to them all goes to water quality and they do a great job at it. And I think we would be sorely remiss to move away,” he said. He said they have been doing it for years and making a big difference in lake quality.

LaMoreaux wrote that during summer 2023, a $295,000 DES contract leveraged an additional $759,385 in support of protecting lakes from the spread of invasive species. 

Since 2002, she said NH LAKES has partnered with more than 1.5 million boaters in New Hampshire, “helping them learn the simple things they can do to prevent the spread of invasive species.”

Lake hosts have “captured more than 1,600 pieces of invasive species hitchhiking on boats and have resulted in innumerable additional saves of invasive species by teaching boaters to always take the time before and after boating to clean, drain, and dry their boats, trailers, and gear.”

She concluded “no funds from the contract we have been awarded by the DES to help support our statewide aquatic invasive species prevention work are used to support our advocacy work.”

“With regard to our advocacy work, Councilor Kenney has been misinformed,” LaMoreaux said.

“This legislative session, on behalf of our supporters and lake association partners, NH LAKES has been responding to two bills introduced in the House of Representatives (HB 1301 and HB 1390) and one bill introduced into the Senate (SB 431) relative to managing the activity of wakesports on our lakes.

“Wakesports are a fun way for individuals of all ages and families to enjoy New Hampshire’s lakes. And, when conducted far from shore and in deep water, wakesports can have minimal impacts on lake health. Unfortunately, the health of our lakes is degraded when wakesports are conducted in areas where the associated large and powerful wakes disturb the shoreline and lake bottom—this is a growing water quality concern in New Hampshire, and across the nation.”

“When engaged in wakesports, wake boats produce wakes that are significantly larger and more powerful than wakes produced by other powerboats engaged in recreational activity. When wakesurfing is conducted close to shore and in shallow water, the powerful wakes accelerate shoreline erosion and stir up the lake bottom, decreasing water clarity and beneficial plant abundance and increasing phosphorus in the water. Increased phosphorus contributes to cyanobacteria blooms, which are growing in frequency and severity in lakes throughout New Hampshire and can be toxic to humans and aquatic life. These large and powerful wakes near the shoreline also damage critical fish and loon habitats. And, they damage shoreline structures and create safety issues for other lake users.”

She said that NH LAKES Board of Directors and the 76 local lake association partner groups are grateful for the Council’s and Department’s continued support of the Lake Host Courtesy Boat Inspection Program. 

“Our work is more urgent this year than ever as the invasive spiny waterflea was found for the first time ever in two of our most popular lakes last fall—Lake Winnipesaukee and Lake Winnisquam,” she said.

Kenney did back down on his position on the Lake Host and the vote passed unanimously but he said this “biting the hands that feed” philosophy is wrong.

Sununu, a Republican who is not seeking another term, said he “completely agreed” with Kenney. 

“They are taking money from the boaters to clean the lake up but at the same time on the right hand side, the left hand is trying to get rid of these motorized (vessels)…which is a problem,” Sununu said.

A link to the Lake Host Program, which is on more than 300 water bodies, is here https://nhlakes.org/lake-host-resources/

Paula Tracy is InDepthNH.org’s senior writer. She has been a reporter in New Hampshire for 30 years.

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