June 11 – 17, 2021Vol. 23, No. 1

7 Lakes Alliance Works to Keep the Watershed Beautiful

While most of the world, including the state of Maine hit a huge PAUSE button in 2020, the team at 7 Lakes Alliance was hard at work to repair and protect the Belgrade Lakes watershed that we all cherish.

Although we share a deep love for our lakes and surrounding land, we simply can't continue to take them for granted. They are uncommonly beautiful but unquestionably fragile, under constant threat from a myriad of environmental challenges as never before.

Climate change, increasing development and destruction of natural habitats, man-made run-off, and destructive invasive species have taken a huge collective toll. We are facing the reality of an accelerating downward spiral toward grave degradation of water quality in the Belgrade Lakes.

Unfortunately, for the most part, we have been poor stewards of the pristine water and surrounding lands we inherited from our parents' and grandparents' generation.

In our Belgrade Lakes watershed, East Pond reached a tipping point after years of human-created phosphorus loading. This triggered a constant cycle of algal blooms, changing the entire lake ecosystem and negatively impacting the quality of life on the lake, not to mention the threat to property values and the local economy.

Summer camps, inns, restaurants, and contractors are but a few of the many businesses that benefit from the lakes. In fact, it is estimated that Maine lakes provide more than 50,000 jobs for families in Maine.

Likewise, North Pond experienced a significant cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) bloom in 2020. Cyanobacteria can produce toxins that can seriously irritate skin and be harmful to both people and pets. These blooms occur because there is too much phosphorous in the lakes and phosphorus is FUEL for algae. The end result is a GREEN and gross lake that no one wants to swim, fish or boat on. Great Pond and Long Pond are currently designated as impaired by the DEP, while McGrath, Salmon and Messalonskee are designated as threatened.

Due largely to the efforts of 7 Lakes and the East Pond Association, in partnership with Colby and the Maine DEP and US EPA, the largest alum treatment to date in New England was done on East Pond. Prior to actual treatment, 7 Lakes and Colby had done extensive scientific research, including establishing the optimal dose for the alum treatment. According to Dr. Danielle Wain, limnologist (lake scientist) and 7 Lakes Science Director, the treatment has resulted in greatly improved water quality. However, she stresses that in-lake remediation efforts that work well in one lake may not work well in another because each one of our Belgrade lakes is unique, although closely connected.

According to Dr. Wain, alum treatments are just one of the many tools in our toolbox. She stresses that reducing phosphorus inputs from the watershed through erosion control and reduction in polluted stormwater runoff is goal number one. 7 Lakes Youth Conservation Corps and LakeSmart programs are two important resources that help local land owners and managers become a vital part of the solution to "keep the dirt out of the lake." This is key to water quality improvement and comes with a MUCH lower price tag than other remediation efforts, such as multimilliondollar alum treatments. The bottom line is that PREVENTION is more effective and far less costly than remediation.

On the prevention front, the numerous science-based water quality projects we undertake will be some of our most critical initiatives. Led by Dr. Wain, in partnership with Dr. Whitney King of Colby, our hard-working lake associations and tireless volunteers, 7 Lakes is using the latest state of the art data collection equipment, much of it recently purchased by generous donors. This equipment is critical to our efforts to understand the scientific factors that link and also differentiate each of the seven lakes in order to take direct and immediate action, tailored to each lake with the goal of restoring water quality.

Through science-based work, we learn what the unique factors are that cause algal blooms. For example, new auto-samplers allow us to quantify the amount of phosphorus coming into the lakes through individual tributaries. If a large downpour occurs at 2 a.m., this equipment will be able to capture the valuable data so 7 Lakes scientists can identify the actual flux of phosphorus from the watershed coming into the lakes. Armed with this data, 7 Lakes is able to take meaningful remediation steps to keep the phosphorus out of the lake at every offending site.

Clearly, we are at a critical moment in the Belgrade Lakes watershed. The work of the 7 Lakes Alliance has been far reaching and impactful but there is much more to be done. As a non-profit center for lake science and an accredited land trust, 7 Lakes Alliance conserves the waters and lands we all love.

We hope you will join us to become part of the solution to keep the Belgrade Lakes watershed clean and beautiful. Visit www.7lakesalliance.org or call us at (207) 495-6039 for information on how to donate, volunteer, or connect with your local lake association.