July 8 – 14, 2022Vol. 24, No. 5

7 Lakes Alliance Confronts Watershed Threats, Part I

by Laurie Raleigh

Our lakes and lands are the heart of the Belgrade Lakes region — a place where generations have been drawn to clear waters and their surrounding forests, fields and hills. Today’s stark reality is the watershed is facing unprecedented challenges that threaten the health of the lakes and its lands. Of Maine’s 6,000 lakes, 21 are classified as “impaired.” Three of those 21 impaired lakes are in the Belgrade Lakes chain — Great Pond, Long Pond and East Pond. The chain’s four remaining lakes are designated as “threatened.”

The challenges facing our lakes include:

Water-quality degradation:

What does a lake being “impaired” or “threatened” mean? Essentially, our lakes are under threat of turning green due to excess phosphorus, a key nutrient for algae.

Phosphorus comes from many sources. (Hence the term “nonpoint source pollution.”) Runoff into our lakes is essentially “a death by a thousand cuts” given the cumulative effect of each small, individual source. These include manicured lawns, aging septic systems, ineffective culverts, uncrowned driveways, impervious surfaces, camp and public roads, and streams, all of which collectively dump an abundance of dirt-carrying phosphorus into our lakes.

Significant runoff flows into the lakes after storms. The harm is compounded by climate change, which creates larger and more violent rain events. The result is an unprecedented number and intensity of algal blooms that feed on phosphorus. Thanks to the work of the 7 Lakes Alliance, Colby College and our lake association partners, we possess significant scientific data to strategically address these threats to water quality.

Increasing development:
A brief drive around the region confirms significant development has occurred and, spurred in part by the pandemic and the urge to “get away” from urban settings, continues to boom at an unprecedented rate. When development fails to take the precautions necessary to mitigate runoff into the lakes, phosphorus levels increase. Undeveloped land acts like both a sponge and a filter for water flows, and provides 10 times more protection to water quality than developed land and impervious surfaces such as rooftops and pavement.
Aggressive invasive aquatic plants:

Many are familiar with invasive variable leaf milfoil, which 7 Lakes Alliance and its partners have worked diligently for years to survey and remove from streams around the North Bay of Great Pond. The good news is we have stopped this aggressive plant from spreading further into Great Pond.

Unfortunately, a new, more aggressive plant, curly-leaf pondweed, was discovered in East Pond last year, and many other invasive aquatics are literally at our doorstep in the waters of nearby lakes. Thankfully, a 7 Lakes-trained volunteer discovered the curly-leaf pondweed plant in the early stages. 7 Lakes, our lake association partners, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection immediately surveyed the surrounding areas on East and North ponds and removed visible evidence of this plant, which can grow and spread under ice. This in no way suggests that curly-leaf pondweed has been eradicated.

“This new invasive is a reminder that there are many other threats beyond milfoil,” warned Sharon Mann, 7 Lake’s Invasive Aquatics Manager. “The most important thing we can learn from this new invasive is that we need more volunteers’ eyes on the waters. 7 Lakes provides training on how to identify invasive aquatic plants for those willing to monitor their shorelines.”

Laurie Raleigh is development director for the 7 Lakes Alliance. See next week’s article to learn about solutions.

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