Who controls flood control at Eel and Burke Ponds?

Selectmen raise issue regarding procedures, responsibilities

Al Harper

The  Issue:  Eel & Burke Pond Flood Protection

The Place: Rye Public Library, Monday, August 6, 2007

The Event: The Selectmen's Meeting attended by about 45 citizens.

The Major Problem up for its first discussion: Control of water levels on both Burke pond and Eel pond, low enough to prevent flooding but high enough to allow recreational activities.

The Setting: Burke Pond is next to Abenaqui Country Club, and a dam at the east end controls the run-off under Central Road over to and under the first bridge on Red Mill Lane, turning east and under the second bridge and finally into Eel pond which also has a dam at the east end and a run-off to the ocean.

Google map with added linkage showing runoff from Burke Pond under Central Road then under Red Mill Lane to Eel Pond

The Players: Abutters who own part of Burke Pond, abutters who do not; abutters who own part of Eel Pond, abutters who do not; Sea Road flooding residents, Red Mill Lane flooding residents and other people living near either pond.

Interested parties: Town of Rye, Emergency Management Director of Rye (Alan Gould), State of NH - Route 1A , DOT,  Federal Government, Abenaqui Country Club, the owner of the dam on Burke Pond.  

Weather events that will have an effect: Future high tides and future hurricanes

Suggested procedures to control flooding: Remove certain stop logs (4 feet by 7 inches and part of Burke Pond dam) to let more water flow from Burke Pond into Eel Pond. This would be done three days or so prior to an anticipated storm. The logs would then be replaced to use Burke Pond as a reservoir to control excess water. This would not help for ocean surges into Eel pond.

Related problems and concerns: Who decides to lower which dam and by how much? Currently, Abenaqui may lower the water in Burke Pond for its own needs. DOT is hesitant to change water levels in Eel Pond due to possible legal liability. State and Town responsibilities are not crystal clear during a flooding event. The State in the 1990's granted the Town the right to remove stop logs in the event of flooding. Weather forecasting is not perfect, so how will we know if such a major storm is coming? The bridge on Red Mill Lane quickly becomes filled up with debris washed down from above which creates flooding in that area. What state and federal grant money is available? What is the current water quality of both ponds? What problems arise if the government is "let in" on the problem? Remember Mothers’ Day flood two years ago? Who has the right to lower either pond in the off-season? One resident has a letter received in the 1990's indicating that the state controls the water level in Eel pond. Low water level can lead to stagnation. Abutters also raised the issue of possible economic impact, liability questions, health issues, and possible impact on fish and wildlife. One of the final comments was: Should we consider converting Eel Pond into a salt marsh as it was in 1905?

Eel Pond photo by Peter Moynahan,Rye's-Guy-in-the-Sky with Route 1A running lower left to right, Burke Pond in the upper left, and showing the large amount of vegetation in Eel Pond.

Burke Pond photo by Peter Moynahan showing the large amount of vegetation in the pond. Abenaqui Club House parking lot is just off the lower right corner

The next step: The Selectmen have decided to undertake a study that will look at long and short term issues to cover how to control storm flooding in both ponds, water quality, vegetation and sedimentation increase in the ponds, and beaver damage. The scope will be negotiated between the Town and the State.

September, 2007