The Warner River, including its native trout population, is being considered for protection

  • Map of the Warner River from the nomination process for inclusion in the Rivers Management and Protection Program. Black squares show old dams that have been breached; pink squares are intact dams. Courtesy—NH DES

  • Water flows over the Warner River Dam in Warner on Friday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Fog lingers over the Warner River near the Dalton Bridge in Warner on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Fog lingers over the Warner River near the Dalton Bridge in Warner on Friday. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, January 12, 2018

As the years-long process for considering state protection for the scenic and trout-friendly Warner River heads to a Senate committee Tuesday, an unexpected concern has emerged: hydropower dams.

It’s unexpected because there aren’t any hydropower dams on the scenic, 20-mile river that runs east from Bradford through Sutton, Warner and Webster before joining the Contoocook River in Hopkinton. But there are at least three dams that might be used for hydropower in the future, and their owners fear adoption into the state’s Rivers Management and Protection Program might hamper them in the future.

“There are a lot of historical dams on that river, most of which are currently breached. But there are a few people interested in developing small scale hydropower or who want to reserve the right do it in the future,” said Tracie Sales, rivers and lakes programs manager for the Department of Environmental Services. Sales is the lead author on a report to the General Court on the proposal.

That concern has delayed the process and changed the suggested protected status of some stretches of waterway.

“The committee has proposed that the river segment containing all but one of the existing or breached dams be classified as a ‘community’ river, allowing for future development of hydropower in this portion of the Warner River,” Sales wrote. “The single breached dam located on a segment of the Warner River not proposed for a ‘community’ classification is owned by a citizen with no interest in rebuilding the dam, and who is satisfied with the proposed ‘rural’ classification.”

The Warner River first drew attention as a candidate for protection because it supports breeding populations of native brook trout, a fish that has often been overwhelmed in New Hampshire rivers by rainbow trout and brown trout stocked for fishing.

“Survey results indicated that two thirds of the streams studied in the Warner River watershed are home to these beautiful fish; they inhabit some very unlikely streams, and excellent stream water quality has been the key to their survival,” according to the nomination petition.

That realization, Sales said, “led to the idea of finding other ways to protect the river, and the formation of the Warner River nominating committee.”

Various public hearings and sessions have been held since 2015, leading to the current nomination to be heard Tuesday by the state Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

If the legislature and governor approve the idea of adding the river to the program, there won’t be any immediate changes. The point is to establish a network to maintain future quality.

“The river’s in good shape, we want to keep it that way,” Sales said. “The primary advantage is creation of a local advisory committee” consisting of various stakeholders who would develop a management plan. “From that comes the closer interaction at the state level with those local committees about the management of the river.”

The nominating process has shown that many residents in the area are interested in preserving the Warner River, she added.

“It’s a really gung-ho, very active group,” she said.

The New Hampshire Rivers Management and Protection Program was established in 1988 with the passage of RSA 483 to protect certain rivers, for their “outstanding natural and cultural resources.” The program is administered by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

The report to the General Council on the Warner River can be read online at des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/rivers/documents/warn-report.pdf.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)