Charles Marsden worries as he watches his granddaughter, Virginia, on his dock at Cobbetts Pond in Windham. Virginia’s favorite pond activity, fishing, might be at risk—along with the pond’s health.
“We did some testing and noticed a huge increase in phosphorous in the water. That’s feeding the toxic blooms and a lot of the weed growth. It makes the pond dangerous to use,” Charles explains. “Boat propellors are getting caught in the weeds, and sometimes fishing gear and even people get tangled up while swimming.”
Charles and his friend Dave Blundell take long walks around the pond. After rainstorms, they have seen firsthand runoff water carrying nutrients into their beloved pond.
“Cobbetts Pond is at the bottom of a ‘bowl.’ It’s surrounded by hills where water flows down into the pond, carrying that phosphorus along with it,” Charles explains. “There are 19 spots around the pond where water flows directly into it, and these are the areas where we’ve seen dramatic weed growth.”
Since 1988, the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association has collected water quality data through the Volunteer Lake Assessment Program of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. That data helped them discover the primary source of phosphorous in the pond: failing and unmaintained septic systems.
“Proactive monitoring ensures a healthy lake and good water quality, and that’s been an essential part of the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association for many years,” Charles told NH LAKES.
Charles and Dave want to safeguard the pond for their grandchildren and the community. They enlisted the help of nearby lake associations and NH LAKES to draft a town health ordinance on septic systems.
“Dave researched to see what other towns and groups have done with septic ordinances,” Charles explained. “There are two ways you can do it; through a health regulation or do it as a town meeting vote. Politically, it’s too difficult to get something passed at the state level, and it’s more effective to address it at the local level.”
Current state law falls short of protecting our lakes, ponds, and citizens from septic system pollution. Towns and local groups must act to propose protections for the lakes, ponds, and people in their community. And voters must take action to vote these safeguards into place.
Charles, Dave, and the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association got to work, informing their members about the plan through quarterly letters. They also informed the public.
“We put it on social media, did advertisements, letters to the editor, put out signs, everything,” Charles told NH LAKES. “We brought the community together around improving the water quality at the town beach. Protecting the town beach was very important for folks that don’t live right on the waterfront.”
They also met with town officials several times to share their data, discuss challenges to the ordinances, and find solutions to support a successful ordinance.
“The only way you’d know if a septic has failed is if a neighbor calls on another neighbor,” Charles said. “We wanted to create something where people felt supported, so if there is a septic failure, the town will work with them to correct it. If they don’t have the funds, there are state loan programs we can direct them to help reduce the burden.”
Ultimately, they decided to do a citizen’s petition through a town meeting warrant article. It received overwhelming support!
“The people of Windham know the importance of Cobbetts Pond,” Charles said. “They know if property values drop, it becomes a less desirable place to live. That will affect taxes, and the rest of the town would have to pick up the difference.”
In their proposed septic ordinance, the town would have a database of all the septic systems within the village district of Cobbetts Pond—a grouping of approximately 700 properties within the watershed already identified through existing regulations. It would require regular inspections of septic systems using the state guidelines for proper maintenance and regular reports of septic pump outs to document the quality and functionality of the systems.
“This helps identify our problem areas, so we can take further action to stop these nutrients from getting into the pond,” explained Charles. “We’ve seen cyanobacteria blooms in the past few years, and we don’t want them to become more frequent.”
The ordinance would ensure that septic systems are appropriately maintained to minimize pollution to the pond. And, thanks to your support, NH LAKES was there to help!
At the request of the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association, NH LAKES provided the association with some feedback on their drafted septic ordinance. NH LAKES also submitted a Letter to the local paper’s editor supporting the ordinance, urging voters to vote in support at the March 14 Town Meeting.
Along with Charles, Dave, and the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association getting the word out, an overwhelming majority passed the septic ordinance at the town meeting in March 2023!
“The community response was fantastic,” Charles said. “We want to share this information with other groups and towns. Our work today means future generations can continue to enjoy our lakes and ponds across New Hampshire.”
Launch your campaign for healthy septic systems (and healthy lakes)!
NH LAKES keeps a library of wastewater management ordinances protective of lake health. If you want to check them out, just let us know! And we offer assistance in reviewing drafted ordinances and can provide public support.
- Learn more about protecting your lake with septic ordinances!
- Reach out to NH LAKES at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Cobbetts Pond, sample ordinances, ordinance review, and public support questions.
- View the Cobbetts Pond Septic Ordinance here.
- View the “Restoring & Preserving Lake Health Through Local Septic System Ordinances” presentation slides from our 2023 Lakes Congress here.