Water – New Hampshire’s most precious resource

In this time of extreme drought for much of New Hampshire, we should take a moment to reflect upon water – our most precious resource.

Every living creature on Earth, including humans, must have freshwater in order to live. In fact, 65 percent of each person is made up of water. Although water covers 70 percent of the Earth, about 97 percent of the water is too salty to use for survival. Of the remaining 3 percent of water that is fresh, most of it is not easily accessible because it makes up the polar icecaps, remote glacier, and icebergs.

Accessible water comes from streams, lakes, and underground sources. These sources represent less than one-half of 1 percent of all the water on Earth. These are pretty impressive facts that begin to give us a glimpse of how precious is the water that most of us in New Hampshire are able to take for granted.

Water is remarkable when we think about it. It has a wide temperature range at which it remains liquid. It normally sticks together so bugs can walk on it. In contrast, fish can breathe in it. In many parts of the world, it symbolizes spiritual cleansing.

Here in Bedford, we live within watersheds that are tributary to and part of the Merrimack River Watershed Basin. Our watersheds (see figure) are all part of one large, interconnected hydrologic system, and we potentially have many competing uses for the water.

The water that is found within our aquifers began as precipitation falling on the basin. So far this year, we have had much less precipitation than usual. The water reaching the aquifer typically seeps into the ground, descends to the watertable, and flows from higher elevations to lower elevations. The Merrimack River itself is the eventual exit point for all the water that falls on the basin minus that which is lost back into the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration.

During times of drought and low flow, like the present, water is in short supply, and the competing uses for the water come into conflict. Competing uses include wildlife needs; human needs for drinking, washing, and other uses; agricultural needs; industrial needs; recreational needs; and one that most people do not think about, waste disposal.

Currently, much of New Hampshire, including Bedford, is experiencing an extreme drought. Many towns throughout the region have declared water restrictions. Bedford has a voluntary ban on outdoor watering of lawns and washing of vehicles. Irrigation of lawns is particularly detrimental because most of that water is transpired by the grass to the atmosphere as vapor and is, therefore, lost to further use by man.

Nearly all of us in Bedford rely on water from individual wells, most of which have been drilled into the underlying bedrock. Some of these wells had low yields from the day they were drilled (about 4 percent of the wells yield less than 1 gallon per minute). During droughts, most wells have reduced yields and some even go dry.

It is important that each of us remember that water is a precious resource that we should not take for granted. Whether we have our own well or receive water from a public supply, we must use our water responsibly and always keep conservation in mind.

By Bedford Land Trust Trustee Susan Tufts-Moore and Richard Moore