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September 1, 2003, 2:00 P.M.

Through the kindness of a friend, Dianne and I have had the use of a motorboat on Lake Winnipesaukee this summer. We are a family of sailors and have always known the lake to be busy, generally avoiding sailing on weekends, preferring instead to sail on weeknights and in the early spring and fall. Most of our friends who live, rather than vacation, on the lake are similarly inclined.

The use of the motorboat has allowed us to experience the lake differently than we do on our sailboat, and it has also given us a different perspective on lake traffic. We always knew that boat traffic, particularly motorboat traffic was bad, but we never knew how bad.

Lake Winnipesaukee is a 44,000 acre lake and on a busy weekend, like this past Labor Day weekend, it is covered with boats. I have heard it said that there as many as one per acre on a busy day. Many of the boats are large cabin cruisers or offshore speed boats that create huge wake and are often not very maneuverable at slow speeds. Cigarette is a particular brand of boat, but the name is often used to describe a large power boat designed to run on a plane. When traveling at low speeds the operator, who sits two-thirds of the way back from the bow in this sort of boat, has very limited visibility. Despite the relative size of the lake, many of these large horsepower offshore boats are being sold and used on the lake.

The boats are only part of the problem. The operators are another. When traveling through Moultonborough Bay yesterday we saw almost unanimous disregard for the headway speed and safe passage rules. The worst part is that the offending operators would smile and wave as they blew by, practically swamping smaller boats as they passed. When I was a kid, learning how to operate a boat safely and competently was a matter of pride. On the ocean, competence is necessary and incompetence is deadly. It’s getting that way on the lake as well. The combination of increased horsepower and decreased ability is deadly.

My family took our little powerboat out to Bear Island and camped there over the weekend. The kids water-skied, cut firewood, made fires, and cooked some’ mores. I assume from their long faces when it was time to leave that they must have enjoyed themselves. While we were there we had the time to think about a possible solution to the boat traffic issues that Lake Winnipesaukee faces.

What if someone were to study the lake and calculate how much boat traffic that the lake could handle while maintaining its health and beauty? Living in an area whose economy depends on tourism, it seems that a healthy and attractive lake is in all of our best interests. If we could calculate the total horsepower that the lake could safely handle, both from a boater safety and lake health perspective, then that horsepower could be divided up in whatever way the market would bear. This idea was inspired by the EPA’s cap-and-trade program for air quality that it conceived many years ago. You may recall that this air quality program created a cap around large sources and regions and allowed air credits to be traded within that region. The cap represents the maximum air pollution load that the region could safely bear. The buying and selling of air pollution credits created market incentives for power plants and industry to operate efficiently and cleanly. More information about the clean air market is available at www.epa.gov/airmarkets.

We think that the clean air market idea could be adapted to control boat traffic and pollution on the lake. The beauty of the horsepower market idea is that it puts the health and safety of the area first. To take the cap and trade model a little further, bubbles are created for companies with many sources, and the company is allowed to pick and choose which of its sources to control as long as a total emissions level is achieved. This bubble idea could be applied to the marina industry to allow them to continue to rent boats to vacationers.

The EPA came up with the air market concept to maintain and improve air quality as the economy and population grows. Anyone who has spent time on Winnipesaukee can see that we will need to make an effort to maintain the quality of our lake as well. If we don’t, nature may solve our problem for us.

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