Wednesday, April 16, 2014

New Horse Rules for Lake Massabesic

Everyone should be concerned about and contribute to the protection of clean water resources in New Hampshire. But what should we do? What strategies are necessary to protect and what strategies are overly restrictive? We often rely upon scientific evidence to tell us what is harmful and what strategies can be implemented to mitigate any harm. There is an environmental debate over the harmfulness of horse manure and what strategies should be implemented to mitigate any such harm.

The issue involves the Lake Massabesic watershed property that supplies water to homes and businesses in Manchester, New Hampshire, and the use of the land by horses for recreational purposes. On April 24, 2014, the Manchester Board of Water Commissioners will decide on new rules restricting recreational horse use on Lake Massabesic watershed property. The proposed rules allows horses to be on gravel fire roads as long as they wear a "diaper" and excludes horses from the water, beaches, boat launches and public parks. The lack of scientific evidence showing any direct casual effect of horse use and water quality of the lake make the decisions in this debate even harder to decide.

Is horse manure harmful? Some say no. Some say it does not matter if it is really harmful or not, if there is a small possibility that horse manure could be harmful then it should be protected against. Horse manure left on a trail is affected by many environmental forces before it ever reaches the fifteen billion gallons of water in Lake Massabesic and into our faucets at home. Sun, soil, air, and water work to decompose the manure in the environment. Sand, gravel, and rock wash containments from water as it flows. Plants and vegetation along the trails use the manure nutrients to grow. Plants and vegetation act as a buffer to the edges of the lake. Horse manure has been dropped and spread on the lands of New Hampshire since the first settlers.

These proposed new rules are important and not just to recreational horse use at Lake Massabesic. It is a precedent that could spread to other watersheds and non-watershed property in New Hampshire. One possible strategy is to require horse owners to spread the manure on the trail to help the natural environment process it quicker. It appears the Manchester Board of Water Commissioners does not support this strategy. The Board is proposing rules that suggest horse manure is a harmful threat to water resources that must be dealt with by the strictest of restraints - requiring horses to wear diapers. There is no direct evidence to support the Board’s conclusion. If there is (or will be) a water quality issue at Lake Massabesic, then a study should be done to determine the causes of why the water quality is (or will be) deteriorating.

Instead, these rule changes are blind attempts to solve a perceived problem when the real problem is not even known. Moreover, to single out one possible contributing factor and implement the most restrictive mitigating strategy gives us all a false hope that the problem has been solved. In the future after the restrictive strategy has been implemented, but the water quality has still deteriorated, we will look back at this debate and say "It was not the horses." We all support clean water. However, strategies to protect water resources and mitigate harm should be based on scientific evidence and not perceived threats.

On April 24, 2014 come out and support a less restrictive strategy for recreational horse use at the Manchester Board of Water Commissioners Board Meeting. The meeting is at 4:30 p.m. at 281 Lincoln Street, Manchester, NH.