Swimming in Canobie Lake - The History and the Reasoning for the Prohibition (9/27/14)

From time to time there are questions regarding the laws, the logic and the reasoning for the ban on swimming in Canobie Lake.   While there is no doubt, especially on a hot, humid summer day, most residents adjacent to the lake would enjoy a dip, the fact is human contact with the water is prohibited.

Swimming in Canobie Lake has been prohibited since 1903, by state law.  The first question everyone has is simple----“Why is swimming banned”?   The shortest, most straight forward answer is because Canobie Lake is the primary source of drinking water to the Town of Salem.   Municipal water supply professionals recommend that human body contact with the source water not be permitted, even if it is treated afterward.  There are many reasons for this recommendation but it boils down to this: maintain multiple levels of protection.  If you keep the source water as clean as possible in the first place, subsequent treatment will be less demanding and less expensive.

In addition, swimming brings the potential health hazard of an organism or parasite called “cryptosporidium”.  Cryptosporidium is a parasite that infects humans and can cause acute lower intestinal infection which can become very severe lasting up to five weeks.  Humans are a major source of cryptosporidium contamination.  Cryptosporidium is highly resistant to chlorine disinfection, and therefore difficult for any water treating facility to remove.

The prohibition of swimming in Canobie Lake is not unique to this body of water.  At last count of the 57 surface source water bodies in the state of New Hampshire, 28 banned swimming and of the 29 not banned the vast majority are streams or rivers.   And this action is not unique to New Hampshire.  Several states have similar bans on lakes that provide drinking water. 

In 2006 the swimming ban was challenged by a local resident who resided on Canobie Lake.   Both the City of Salem and the Department of Environmental Services vigorously defended the ban and the ban was subsequently upheld.

The Canobie Lake Protective Association supports the swimming ban for all the reasons noted above and encourages folks not to swim in the lake.  If you see someone swimming, you could politely remind them of the ban.  Or you could report the incident to the either the Salem or Windham Police departments.

Yes, the downside of these statutes is that residents live alongside a wonderfully, clean body of water that they cannot enjoy cooling off in on a warm summer’s day.  But think of the advantages.  Because of this ban, there is no skiing, no jet skis, and no large motor boats.  This makes for a very quiet, safe environment.  For those who kayak, take leisurely cruises, or fish the lake, it provides a quiet, calm environment.   And most important, it provides the residents of Salem with clean, safe drinking water.