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Cocheco Watershed

Water District Drinking Water Source

The Cocheco River Watershed drains 185 square miles from 11 towns in New Hampshire. Major water features include Bow Lake, Ayers Pond, the main stem of the Cocheco River, and its largest tributaries, the Ela, Mad, Mohawk, Berrys, and Isinglass Rivers. The watershed includes hundreds of small streams, ponds, and wetlands. Landscapes range from forested floodplains and peat lands, to open grasslands and mixed pine, oak and hemlock forests. A number of these areas have been identified as significant habitat for a wide variety of wildlife including many threatened and endangered species. Parcels of state, municipal, and privately managed conservation land are located throughout the watershed. The upper watershed is characterized as rural and largely forested. Significant development occurs around Farmington center and Sunrise Lake. The lower section is much more developed and includes the 4th (Rochester at 31,000) and 7th (Dover at 28,495) largest cities in the state.

The Berrys River is the drinking water source for the town of Rochester.

The Cocheco River is the drinking water source for the city of Dover and also receives the outflow from the municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Dover, Farmington, and Rochester. The river drops 730 feet from its headwaters to its confluence with the Salmon Falls River in Dover. The river passes one dam at the mill complex in Dover center. There is also a dam located on Bow Lake at the beginning of the Isinglass River.

Ongoing Projects:
Dredging of the main channel along the Dover waterfront
Redevelopment of City owned river front land in Dover
Key Resource(s) for Cocheco Watershed:
(Click the Title of the entry below to learn more.)
Cocheco River Watershed Coaliton
Community Assistance Providers
A grass roots organizations working to protect and restore the Cocheco River since 1998.
Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
Community Assistance Providers
Provides education, outreach, research, and stewardship in support of estuaries and rivers.
Strafford Rivers Conservancy
Community Assistance Providers
The Strafford Rivers Conservancy is a regional land trust whose purpose is to protect the natural resources, beauty, and character of lands in Strafford County.
Watershed Restoration and Implementation Plan for the Cocheco River Watershed
Publications, Websites, and Tools

Towns located in Watershed:
Barrington [NH]
Dover [NH]
Farmington [NH]
Middleton [NH]
Milton [NH]
New Durham [NH]
Northwood [NH]
Rochester [NH]
Rollinsford [NH]
Somersworth [NH]
Strafford [NH]
Counties located in Watershed:
Rockingham [NH]
 Website: www.co.rockingham.nh.us
 Phone: 603-679-9350
 Population SWIM Towns: 31,759
 Total County Population: 296,267 (U.S. Census Est. 2006)
 Area SWIM Towns: 65.4 square miles
 Total County Area: 695 square miles
Strafford [NH]
 Website: www.co.strafford.nh.us
 Phone: 603-742-1469
 Population SWIM Towns: 18,217
 Total County Population: 119,990 (U.S. Census Est. 2006)
 Area SWIM Towns: 313.4 square miles
 Total County Area: 369 square miles
Waterbodies located in Watershed:
(WC-watercourse, WB-waterbody)

Axe Handle Brook [WC]; Ayers Pond [WB]; Baxter Lake [WB]; Berrys River [WC]; Blacksmith Brook [WC]; Blackwater Brook [WC]; Bow Lake [WB]; Chalk Pond [WB]; Champlin Pond [WB]; Coldrain Pond [WB]; Dames Brook [WC]; Ela River [WC]; Emerson Brook [WC]; Fresh Creek [WC]; Green Hill Brook [WC]; Hanson Pond [WB]; Hayes Brook [WC]; Horn Brook [WC]; Howard Brook [WC]; Indian Brook [WC]; Isinglass RIver [WC]; Jackson Brook [WC]; Little Long Pond [WB]; Long Pond [WB]; Mad River [WC]; Marchs Pond [WB]; Nippo Brook [WC]; Nippo Pond [WB]; Oxbow Pond [WB]; Pokamoonshine Brook [WC]; Preston Pond [WB]; Rattlenake River [WC]; Reyners Brook [WC]; Rochester Reservoir [WB]; Rollins Brook [WC]; Round Pond [WB]; Scruton Pond [WB]; Sherburne Brook [WC]; Sunrise Lake [WB]; Twombly Brook [WC]

Cocheco comes from the Abenaki word for the falls in downtown Dover that Europeans then applied to the whole river. Native Americans had seasonal settlements along its banks for hunting, fishing, and agriculture. Timber resources brought the first permanent European settlement at Dover and water powered mills were quickly established in the 1600s. There were low numbers of Native Americans at this time due to the earlier introduction of diseases by European fishermen and traders.

European settlement was kept down during the period of French and Indian wars but once over farming quickly replaced timber as the main occupation and the population boomed. Farming reached its maximum in the 1830 1850s as every available acre was used for raising sheep to provide wool to the expanding New England cloth mills. The landscape changed from 98% forested to a low of 39%.

Farming declined after the Civil War as the west became accessible by rail. Once the mills were freed from a dependence on water power they began to leave the region to be closer to raw materials and cheaper labor. Suburbanization in the lower watershed began in the late 1960s and the upper reaches became increasingly popular for seasonal camps.

The River was heavily impacted by the effluent from cotton, wool, and leather production along with sewage from growing centers of population. The 1972 Clean Water Act initiated a renewal by providing funds to remediate direct pipe discharges. Waste water treatment was implemented and upgraded in several communities and progress continues. Over the last several decades a growing population and commercialization has increased polluted run off and presented the next challenge in restoring the Cocheco River.
The Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve at Laudholm Farm, Wells, Maine Copyright 2006 All rights reserved. Collaboration with NOAA CSC, Charleston SC