Yes, you can take water from rivers and lakes during a drought, but you need permission first 

  • The Merrimack River at Memorial Park in Pembroke on Monday, April 26, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/26/2021 4:38:06 PM

In normal times, the request to fetch water from the Merrimack River for home lawn care would barely register on any hot-button radar.

But these are not normal times, and it has nothing to do with COVID. It has to with a drought. It’s here, now, and that could mean a few clandestine withdrawals from lakes and rivers in the coming months.

It’s legal to do, but you need permission first.

In Pembroke, Avery Hastings played by the rules and asked the Select Board for permission to collect water from the Merrimack River at Memorial Park. He planned to fill up a water tote with a pump and a garden hose and haul the water back home to water his lawn.

Ted Diers, the administrator of the Department of Environmental Services’ Watershed Management Bureau, said not everyone cooperates and completes the official steps needed to benefit from this local gem. Sometimes, Diers said, people bypass the procedure, either because they don’t know the rules, or they are trying to get around them.

“We get complaints from dozens and dozens of people, especially during a drought,” Diers said. “You should make the point to your readers that when the water level gets lower and lower, the public gets more sensitive, and they should be.”

Diers sees the drought with ecology on in mind. He said small lakes and ponds sometimes need all the water they can get to support the natural order of things.

“It does not take much to have an effect on the fish and the macroinvertebrates they eat,” Diers said.

He said it’s early in the drought season. His department hasn’t been called to investigate.


“There will be a lot more complaints over the next few months,” Diers said.

He laid out the process. By law, residents are entitled to withdraw no more than 20,000 gallons averaged over a seven-day period. The obstacle? Permission from the landowner whose property leads directly to any river, stream, lake or pond.

“The biggest issue we have is lots of people who will pull trucks up for water on land that they do not own,” Diers said. “At a boat launch or a bridge, and they start sucking water, you can not do that. You need permission. It’s a civil issue, trespassing.”

Permits are needed for bulk operations that extend past the 20,000, seven-day limit, for jobs like large agricultural projects or dust control.

That’s when other requirements must be met. Things like the effect on aquatic life, irrigation systems, erosion, recreation, to name a few.

“Most of the time it’s a landscaper getting water to do their stuff,” said Pembroke Police Chief Dwayne Gilman. “They will pull up to the ponds and lakes and it’s usually businesses filling their tanks to do what they do, and that could take away from the natural resources.”

Gilman said it’s been quiet this spring. Diers and his peers have not yet been called to do any investigations. But he and his staff have looked ahead. They checked levels of groundwater and streams and rivers. They tracked precipitation amounts.

The verdict is clear: Diers says that the drought monitor shows 43 percent of the state is labeled D1, or already in “moderate drought,” while the rest of the state has a rating of just one step below that, on the verge of drought conditions.

“We’re already heading into a drought, so the timing to talk about this is perfect,” Diers said. “It will be a very, very dry summer. You see the trucks that pull over at their favorite ponds and you are pumping and it’s not your land and the water is low, believe me, people are watching.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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