Advisory council oversees Souhegan River

MILFORD – The health and future of the Souhegan River are in good hands – those who love the river and want it to be used by everyone and kept clear.

Since 2000, when the Souhegan was named part of the New Hampshire Rivers Management Protection Program, a local advisory council has been charged with looking after the river’s best interests.

Several rivers were selected by the state for protection because of their cultural and natural features. Much of the Souhegan flows through undeveloped land.

Where it flows through towns, there are numerous old mills and much local history.

The council’s scope extends 1,000 feet along both sides of the river, and includes commenting on all applications for projects along the river, developing a local river management plan in connection with town planners and working with the N.H. River Management Advisory Committee.

George May, of Merrimack, is the current chairman. Member towns include Merrimack, Amherst, Greenville, Milford, New Ipswich and Wilton.

The council generally meets in Milford on the third Thursday of the month to discuss whatever projects are under consideration. At its November meeting at the Wadleigh Memorial Library, topics ranged from the removal of Milford’s “green bridge,” which it approves, providing all of the abutments are removed; supporting the removal of Milford’s dams; and monitoring the area near Keyes Field.

It advocates guardrails along Route 31 South (Greenville Road) where cars have gone into the river, but since it is a scenic area, it prefers “scenic-type” rails – dark colored with wooden posts.

The council is watching housing developments in Merrimack and New Ipswich that affect the river.

It heard a report from Jill Longval, of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, concerning last year’s evaluation of the riverbanks for erosion and discussed how that information can be used.

The report includes the condition of culverts in certain sections of the river and has gone to each town’s hazard mitigation programs.

The Souhegan River is formed by the confluence of the south and west branches in New Ipswich and flows about 33 miles from there to the Merrimack River in Merrimack.

The advisory council is made up of members from the six towns through which it flows.

The river is widely used by fishermen, and is stocked regularly with trout. It supports two wastewater treatment plants, several golf courses and local farms. It once supported numerous manufacturing plants.

The Souhegan River Local Advisory Council, or SoRLAC, works with the Souhegan Watershed Association. That group was established in 1995 to monitor the entire watershed, which includes parts of 11 towns in New Hampshire and two in Massachusetts, with about 35,000 people.

The SWA provides educational programs, sponsored the restoration of Atlantic salmon, oversees water-quality monitoring during the summer, sponsors canoe trips and holds several riverside cleanups each year. The fast-moving stretch of white water through Greenville into Wilton is a popular kayak put-in during spring high water.

The group has noted the presence of 28 threatened or endangered species within the watershed.

SoRLAC also works closely with the Merrimack Rivers Council and the Nashua Regional Planning Commission. Council members are usually members of the local conservation commission.

For more information, visit www.souheganriver.org or www.nashuarpc.org, or email riversprogram@des.nh.gov.