Good News, Bad News, and A Local Initiative
by Bonnie Sammons
Good news!! The water quality of a significant number of rivers, streams and lakes in Maine has improved.
According to the recent report of the Maine Climate Council (MCC), negative impacts from development, agriculture, and forestry practices have been mitigated by regulations and laws designed to protect water quality.
Lake associations have also helped improve protect lakes by assessing threats, making recommendations to remediate them and helping implement the recommendations. Their efforts include:
- Watershed surveys that identify erosion hazards and make specific recommendations to fix them. Several of these have been completed in the Belgrades.
- Monitoring for invasive plant species, taking Secchi disk readings of water clarity and helping with Colby College's water quality monitoring activities.
- Acquiring grant funding to help property owners implement erosion control measures.
- Free analyses by LakeSmart coordinators for property owners to help them protect water quality by installing better buffers and other features to slow erosion that carries phosphorus into the lake.
With all of these excellent efforts one might conclude that we are doing all that we can to protect our water quality. But there is one threat to our lakes indeed to our ecosystems and planet that persists.
Here comes the bad news!! Climate disruption is having several impacts as described in the Maine Climate Council's Report:
- Maine Lake surface temperatures have increased by 5.5 degrees since 1984, more than the global average. Warming temperatures can eliminate cold-water adapted species, decrease ice thickness and duration, alter food webs.
- More intense rainfall events facilitate stormwater transport of soil, nutrients, and other pollutants into lakes.
- Higher nutrient levels that shift biota to less-desirable species including nutrient-loving invasive species, cyanobacteria, and possibly toxin-producing algal bloom species.
In addition to protecting water quality because we love the lakes, there are practical considerations. Studies indicate that shoreline property values decrease when water quality suffers. This causes a domino effect with respect to property taxes by shifting the tax burden from shoreland properties to upland properties. Studies cited in the MCC Report estimate that Maine lakes generate annual revenue of approximately $4 billion (amount adjusted for inflation). Locally, Michael Donihue's 2015 study of the economic impact of the Belgrade Lakes states, "We find an estimated annual impact of $6.8 million in spending, including multiplier effects, and support for 68 full and part-time jobs in the watershed."
Clearly there are many motivations for maintaining the quality of the lakes and other Maine waters.
What can be done to prevent or at least diminish the negative impacts of climate disruption which is a local, national and global problem? We need actions that can impact the state, the country and the world.
One such grassroots action called Carbon Cash Back 4 Maine has been undertaken by a dedicated group of volunteers in over 30 Maine communities. These volunteers began with a goal of bringing climate into the conversation locally and statewide and building support for climate action. Another key goal of the initiative is to communicate the need for a price on carbon that will help us all reduce carbon emissions and transition to a future where renewable energy sources replace fossil fuels.
A unique benefit of the plan that CCB4ME advocates for is that fees collected from the carbon price are paid out monthly to each US household rather than using it for more government programs.
Will putting a price on carbon help maintain our water quality? There is a long chain of events that leads from burning carbon-based fuels to impaired water quality The chain must be broken. There is no silver bullet that will protect water quality and mitigate all climate impacts. We have to pull out all the stops including a price on carbon that reflects its true cost as an essential part of an overall plan.
Currently over 20 Maine towns and Cities have voiced support for carbon pricing, and the Carbon Cash Back Volunteers are continuing their work with more Maine towns and cities. For more information go to carboncashback4me.org.