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10/30/2013 2:00:00 PM
DLWA Project Aimed at Reducing Runoff Pollution

Jody Jones is the executive director for the Damariscotta Lake 

Watershed Association. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Jody Jones is the executive director for the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
By Dominik Lobkowicz

The Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association is working on a new project to reduce harmful runoff into the lake and is looking to the three lakeside towns to help sustain existing programs, according to the new DLWA Executive Director Jody Jones.

According to Jones, the two major threats to Damariscotta Lake are invasive plants - such as hydrilla, which the association has been battling since 2010 - and poor water quality, which could lead to algae blooms that could lead to economic and biologic impacts.

One contributor to poor water quality can be "non-point source pollution," or pollutants such as soil, nutrients, bacteria, oils, or heavy metals which can be brought into the lake from anywhere in the watershed due to rain or melted snow, as opposed to coming from a single point, according to DLWA documentation.

Farming, timber harvesting, and developed area are all potential sources of the non-point pollution but, according to Jones, the most runoff occurs due to roads.

Damariscotta Lake is one of only 181 lakes in the state to be listed by the Maine Land & Water Resources Council as a non- point source pollution priority watershed, which takes into account the value of the water body and threats to water quality. Even among that list, it is one of 41 "highest priority" lakes.

Jones said the association has already been performing ongoing bi-weekly transparency and oxygenation testings in the lake and has applied for a grant to perform its own phosphorus (a factor in algae blooms) testing, but a new effort is planned to evaluate and remediate non-point pollution sources within the watershed.

"There is money available to remedy the problems if they are identified and prioritized," Jones said.

The association is planning to perform that identification and prioritization by utilizing 20 to 30 volunteers to conduct a non-point source survey of the entire watershed in 2014. Jones said she is confident the association will be able to recruit and train the requisite number of volunteers.

The initial three-year project include the survey (2014), grant application and agency coordination (2015), and remediation implementation (2016).

The budget for each year of the project is roughly in the $36,000 range, and Jones said hopes are to secure $30,000 in funding each year to cover the bulk of the budget and supplement the difference using membership dollars.

A recent anonymous donor has provided the $30,000 for the first year of the project, she said.

As for the remediation of non-point source pollution problems, the association would apply for a portion of the approximately $500,000 of Federal Clean Water Act funds awarded to Maine each year, Jones said.

Watersheds with a current survey and identified as highest priority, such as Damariscotta lake are given preference for the funds, and the association's previous success in seeking such funding and the importance of the lake increase the likelihood of funding, according to association documentation.

The grant money would require a 50 percent match from either landowners, road associations, or the towns in order to perform the pollution remediation, and cooperation will be needed for the effort to be successful, Jones said.

"It will save all of us money down the road," Jones said. Road associations in particular may benefit because the remediation may help fund a permanent fix to problems with their roads, she said.

Algae blooms

Phosphorus as a non-point source pollutant can be a threat the lakes because it can cause algae blooms to form, Jones said.

Algae blooms have become big problems in China Lake and Sabbattus Lake, turning off both visitors and landowners alike, according to DLWA Senior Programs Manager Garrison Beck.

"It's literally - the top of the water is green," Beck said.

Beyond affecting the appearance of the lake, the algae blooms can impact the fish living in it, Beck said.

As the algae grows, dies, and then decomposes, it consumes much of the oxygen in the lake, reducing the amount available for fish and other organisms, Beck said. Even if it does not lead to a "fish kill," the reduced oxygen can be a big strain on the ecosystem, he said.

Such an outcome would be a shame, particularly given the effort to restore the fish ladder in Damariscotta Mills, Jones said.

"The worst thing would be to spend all this money on a new fishway to get [alewives] to Damariscotta Lake and then have them die," she said.

Beck said certain species of algae, depending on several factors, are also potentially toxic.

Town assistance

Separate from the three-year water quality project, Jones said the association is seeking assistance from Jefferson, Nobleboro, and Newcastle to help fund efforts already underway to prevent and contain invasive plants and monitor water quality.

A hydrilla plant taken from Davis Stream in Jefferson. (Photo courtesy 

Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association)
A hydrilla plant taken from Davis Stream in Jefferson. (Photo courtesy Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association)
The DLWA has been combating hydrilla since it was found in Davis Stream in 2010, and the effort has been successful enough to go from removing bucketfuls of the plant from the stream that year to only removing four individual plants in 2013, according to an association report.

For a number of years, the association's efforts to provide courtesy boat inspections for plants at the public boat launch in Jefferson, coordinate volunteer efforts for patrolling over half the lake annually for invasive plants, and water quality testing have been underwritten by membership dollars and a private donation, Jones said.

The private donation, however, is not going to last, and the association is looking to the lakeside towns to provide a regular annual donation to sustain those efforts, she said.

The association would prefer not to spend tens of thousands of dollars on remediation when something goes awry, but would rather spend a smaller portion of that on preventing problems in the first place, Jones said.

"I'm looking for a contribution that reflects that the work that we do here is protecting the towns' economic engine," Jones said.

Much of the work is performed by volunteers, and the association's employees would not be able to do it alone, Jones said. "We're very fortunate to have great volunteers," she said.

So far, Jones has met only with the Jefferson Board of Selectmen, who asked her to submit a request for funds in writing which outlines what the funds would go to support. Jones is scheduled to meet with the Nobleboro Board of Selectmen at their meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 6, and has not yet set a date with Newcastle.

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