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Water quality along the Exeter River is generally very good. The river is the source of public drinking water for Exeter, supports a wide variety of plant and animal life, and provides many recreational opportunities. There are 17 named tributaries flowing into the Exeter River and ten ponds in the watershed.There are forty-one dams located along the Exeter River and its tributaries. As a major tributary to Great Bay, the Exeter River also plays a vital role in maintaining the overall health of the Bay’s environment. During the summer months, when precipitation and ground water levels drop, the river becomes slow moving and vulnerable to pollution. Water quality occasionally suffers from excessive algal growth from nutrients entering the water from septic systems, fertilizers and surface run-off.

Exeter River scenic viewPollution problems are categorized in general terms as originating from either “point” or “nonpoint” sources. Point sources are discharges from pipes, such as those leading from stormwater culverts and sewage treatment plants.A nonpoint source is any site from which polluted runoff can occur, such as a construction site, parking lot, pasture, or heavily fertilized lawn. The successful control of nonpoint source pollution relies on the cooperation of everyone.You can make the right choices and take the following individual actions to protect the river’s water quality.

Shorelands – Shoreland vegetation protects water quality by filtering pollutants such as phosphorus and sediments from stormwater runoff.

  • Maintain or re-establish a vegetative buffer of native trees, shrubs, and groundcover along the shore. A buffer of at least 125 feet is needed to absorb pollution and 300 feet or more is needed to provide habitat for a range of wildlife.
  • Selectively cut and properly prune trees to maintain a view and establish access to the water.
Erosion Control – Stormwater erodes exposed soils, washing large amounts of sediment into the river.
  • Stabilize exposed soils with mulch and prevent further erosion by planting native vegetation.
  • Minimize the amount of pavement and other impervious surfaces such as walkways and patios. Instead use crushed rocks or mulch so water is absorbed into the soil rather than running into the river.
Septic Systems – Septic systems can release poorly treated or untreated wastewater, and contaminate adjacent surface and ground waters if not maintained properly.
  • Locate septic systems as far back as possible from the river.
  • Check the sludge level in your septic tank each year and have it pumped out every 3-5 years.
  • Do not flush household chemicals into your system.These chemicals can destroy the necessary bacteria in the tank.
  • Keep trees and heavy equipment off the leach field.
Lawns – When too much fertilizer is applied, grass cannot take up the nutrients fast enough and excess phosphorous may be washed into the river.
  • Minimize lawn areas and choose low-maintenance turf grasses and groundcovers.
  • Use the minimum amount of fertilizer needed and apply it properly.Test your soil to determine its pH levels and nutrient needs.
  • Limit the use of herbicides and pesticides and choose natural alternatives.
Wetlands – Wetlands provide essential wildlife and fish habitat, recreation and educational opportunities, visual and aesthetic values, and help protect water quality and quantity.
  • Avoid disturbing wetland areas and establish and maintain vegetative buffers between developed land and wetlands.
  • Do not dredge, fill or work in wetlands without obtaining the necessary state and local permits.
Land Conservation – Today, there is enormous development pressure on land along the Exeter River. If you are interested in ensuring that your land remains forever undeveloped, there are steps you can take. Private landowners typically protect their land by means of conservation easement.

A conservation easement permanently restricts development while allowing the land to remain in private ownership.The easement is recorded with the deed and its terms are monitored by a non-profit or governmental entity authorized to hold easements. An easement may be donated or sold, and there are frequently favorable tax consequences from giving an easement.

For more information on voluntarily protecting your land from development, contact your local Conservation Commission or the Exeter River Local Advisory Committee.

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