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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Maine: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Highland Lake Watershed Project:
Hotspots Model Links Land Use and Water Quality


Norm Marcotte
Nonpoint Source Coordinator
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
State House Station #17
Augusta, ME 04333
norm.g.marcotte@ state.me.us
Primary Sources of Pollution:

urban runoff

Primary NPS Pollutants:


Project Activities:

erosion control training and BMPs

reduction of 14.3 pounds of phosphorus in the first year

Like many lakes in southern Maine, Highland Lake has experienced a long history of adverse watershed development patterns. Highland Lake is a picturesque, blue water lake in the foothills of the White Mountains of western Maine. The 1,300-acre lake is the centerpiece for the town of Bridgton, Maine. The watershed was developed in stages: the expansive farm fields of the 1800s gave way to reforestation and second homes in an odd combination of old land uses and new development patterns. Since the early 1900s, 10 miles of shoreline frontage have been developed. Access roads were designed and built at a time when eroding roads were not believed to be pollution sources. Although much of the land remains forested, geographic information system (GIS) studies showed that existing developed areas accounted for 70 percent of the phosphorus reaching the lake.

The development patterns have affected the lake's water quality. Currently, the Lakes Environmental Association (LEA), a nonprofit conservation group, considers the lake at risk for developing algae blooms. Long-term monitoring data indicate the lake is threatened with gradual declines in water clarity and dissolved oxygen. A persistent loss of oxygen would reduce or eliminate trout habitat. In the lake's deeper waters, phosphorus is recycling in the bottom sediments. Increases in phosphorus levels could lead to significant declines in water quality and aquatic habitat. Reductions in water quality could lead to financial problems as well: recent studies by the University of Maine and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) show a direct relationship between high lake water clarity and higher property values. Concerns have been raised that property values along Highland Lake's shoreline, currently valued at $17 million, could decrease if the lake's water quality worsens.

Reducing phosphorus and sediment

These concerns prompted LEA to carry out an intense, 3-year section 319 project (January 1997 to March 2000) to control and reduce pollution impacts on the lake. As a first step, LEA used DEP's phosphorus loading methodology to determine a phosphorus reduction goal for the watershed. It was estimated that a reduction of 50 pounds of phosphorus per year would result in a noticeable improvement in water quality.

LEA then used GIS technology and its "Phosphorus Hotspots Model" to assess the watershed. The model overlays land use information (GIS coverage) with phosphorus export coefficients for each land use, adjusted for soil type, slope, and zones of proximity to the lakeshore or shorelines of tributaries. "Our model represents an automated way of applying common sense principles of phosphorus export in order to better understand the effects of a watershed's land use patterns on water quality," explains Peter Lowell, Executive Director of LEA.

As an adjunct to this method, LEA conducted a field survey of secondary roads under deluge-like storm conditions. Observing areas under a worst-case scenario helped to identify erosion sites and offered ideas regarding which management practices would be most effective.

Throughout the project, LEA collaborated with volunteers and key organizations, especially Portland Water District and DeLuca-Hoffman Associates, along with the Town of Bridgton, the Town of Sweden, Maine DEP, and EPA. LEA worked with its partners to encourage, design, and construct "fixes" using a multifaceted approach.

Under the project's Clean Lakes Check-Up program, LEA assisted property owners with a wide range of storm water runoff and erosion problems. Upon request, LEA conducted site visits and developed field reports and detailed erosion control plans. In total, 42 Clean Lake Check-Ups were performed.

Erosion Control Workshops, focusing on camp road maintenance, shoreline buffer strips, and a wide range of erosion control techniques, were held over three seasons. LEA and Maine DEP staff also provided training on the latest erosion control techniques to earth-moving contractors, resulting in the certification of 17 contractors. In addition, LEA worked closely with the CEO from the Town of Bridgton to assist code enforcement officers in preventing and addressing shoreline violations. LEA worked closely with contractors on a variety of sediment problems related to roads and riparian buffers, resulting in the installation of best management practices (BMPs) at 19 key site locations.

Encouraging results

After the BMPs were installed, LEA recalculated the Hotspots maps in consultation with engineering staff from Deluca-Hoffman Associates. The difference between the preconstruction and postconstruction phosphorus export represented the reduction in phosphorus export as a result of BMP construction. It was found that the BMPs installed under this one project accounted for a reduction of 14.3 pounds of phosphorus. LEA will continue to work with the community on a long-term program to achieve phosphorus reductions closer to the 50 pounds per year goal.

LEA, Maine DEP, and EPA New England are encouraged by the overall results of the Highland Lake project. In April 2000 EPA New England presented LEA with an EPA Merit Award for its 30-year history of exceptional work and its efforts on the Highland Lake project. Peter Lowell recapped the project's success: "The project significantly raised awareness among all interest groups in the watershed. The ability to quantify the water quality impact of BMPs will continue to be a powerful tool in encouraging ongoing efforts to protect this lake and many others." 

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Silver Spring Brook Watershed Demonstration Project:
Landowners' Cooperation Plus Town's Commitment Equals Success


Kathy Hoppe
Maine Department of Environmental Protection
Northern Maine Regional Office
1235 Central Drive
Presque Isle, ME 04769
kathy.m.hoppe@ state.me.us
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (crops)

farm access roads
Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

erosion control/land use practices (diversion ditches, culverts, sediment pond, ditches/road improvements, buffers)

decreased turbidity readings

improved recreational opportunities

improved native brook trout habitat

The Silver Spring Brook watershed encompasses about 1,400 acres, 42 percent of which are cropland. The remaining acreage is either forested or in the Conservation Reserve Program. Over the years, the stream's water quality had become degraded to the point of being almost unusable. Field roads, ditches, stream crossings, and sections of some fields were identified as significant contributors to the stream's degradation.


Runoff from farm roads caused excess sediment to enter Silver Spring Brook.

Silver Spring Brook had threefold value to the town of Limestone: it was the town's drinking water supply, a cold-water habitat for native brook trout, and the feeder for the community swimming area. Heavy sedimentation resulted in high raw turbidity readings, exceeding federal drinking water standards, threatening the cold-water habitat for native brook trout, and endangering the town's only recreational swimming area.

Cooperation of landowners

The Town of Limestone formed a partnership with the Central Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District to plan and implement a 319 project, funded through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and MDEP were consulted on how best to solve the problem. There were two key components to the project's success. One was the cooperation of adjacent landowners—all farmers—and the other was the town's commitment of municipal staff and equipment to the installation of the farm road best management practices (BMPs).


Farmers cooperated to install BMPs to divert runoff away from the creek and into the woods.

A variety of erosion controls and land use practices were installed throughout the project area. Diversion ditches were constructed to divert the flow of water away from the brook, and turnouts were built to divert road flow into the woods. Culverts were replaced and new ones added, surrounded by riprap, to allow unimpeded stream flow. A sediment pond was also constructed to collect runoff from cropland.

The farm access road that crossed the stream was graded and crowned, and the stream crossing was repaired and stabilized. Workers installed drain tile to control the water from a natural spring that had been causing erosion and deterioration of the farm access road. They reshaped and stabilized existing road ditches and constructed new ditches. Grass buffers were also established along the fields.

Several acres of highly erodible cropland were placed in conservation reserve, thanks to the cooperation of Glen Beaulieu, whose farm borders the brook on which most of the BMPs were constructed. "I couldn't cultivate that acreage during wet years," he explains," and I was losing a lot of topsoil. I was happy to place that land into the Conservation Reserve Program." Beaulieu says that since the BMPs were installed, there have not been any washes, the diversion ditches are working, and the water looks much cleaner.

Decreased turbidity

Before the project, raw turbidity readings averaged 1.99 nephelometric turbidity units, or NTU (in 1995 and 1996), exceeding the federal drinking water standard of 1.6 NTU treated turbidity. Raw turbidity readings for the same period in 1997 and 1998 averaged 1.225 NTU—a 38 percent improvement even before fully establishing all the BMPs. A dry summer and a very wet fall, along with plantings of a potato crop (highly erodible), contributed to an increase in turbidity readings in 1999. Data have since become unavailable, however, because the town switched from a surface water source (using Silver Spring Brook) to a groundwater source after the new federal drinking water standard of 0.50 NTU treated turbidity was established.

The native brook trout habitat has significantly benefited from the decrease in murky conditions. Lower turbidity readings have also resulted in improved swimming conditions for the community, improving recreational opportunities. Although many seemingly inconsequential unstable land use practices can add up to water quality degradation, through the commitment of local people and agencies and effective teamwork, water pollution can be prevented and water quality restored. 


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