February 23, 2018

Preparation for Highland Lake Public Forum by Dennis Brown

There is no question that the picocyanobacteria blooms over the past four years initiated the Highland Lake Association (HLA) to explore what has been done in the past and what can be done now to address the problem. The following is information that may help with informed participation in a Public Forum Discussion, with the Town of Windham, which is set for Wednesday, March 7 at the Windham High School auditorium.

In reviewing a 2003 Phosphorus Control Action Plan for Highland Lake, it was noticed that the action items called for biannual meetings of the key stakeholders including the two Towns of Windham and Falmouth, the Highland Lake Association as well as the Maine DEP, citizens, and the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD.) It was researched, and no one remembered ever having a meeting of those stakeholders; so the HLA approached Windham Town Council first, since the Association had already begun a relationship with the them, and then scheduled a combined meeting with both Windham and Falmouth Town Managers to discuss the concept of getting together to improve and protect the water quality.

The HLA expected to be met with professionalism, and that’s what we got, as well as very willing, responsible town leaders who were happy to spend the time on forming the Highland Lake Leadership Team (HLLT), and being active participants. 

The HLLT has formally met just three times, but the enthusiasm from all members has been noticeable. All the committees have made great strides in outlining their specific charge and jumping into the efforts required of each. The two towns are working well together in identifying ordinance differences as the Ordinance Committee looks to both towns and surrounding areas for the best practices that will protect the lake. From the trends that the lake has experienced, it is obvious that the existing ordinance and resident practices are not preventing greater concentrations of phosphorus from entering the lake.

This rise in phosphorus is very concerning, because phosphorus is the base of the food chain within the lake and once the level gets above 10 parts per billion, the likelihood of algae blooms is high; and while we don’t know if it is directly related to the picocyanobacteria blooms or not, we do know that higher levels of phosphorus will exacerbate the blooms.

The Education and Outreach Committee is working with all the other committees to help communicate their information, needs and results to the general public. 
This includes the upcoming Public Forum which is reaching out to road associations to provide guidance on best practices on roads and individual home landscaping to minimize phosphorus exports to the lake.

The Watershed Committee is in the process of identifying the many steps and tasks involved with a Watershed Survey to be held on May 19. This effort will look at the entire watershed to identify sources of phosphorus and nitrates into the lake; then will prioritize, and make recommendations of what should be done to address the problems.

There will be about 50 volunteers involved in the one long-day survey. This will be the basis used to show what problems we have, and what we need to do to address existing conditions that are detrimental to the lake. Once this is completed, a new Phosphorus Management Plan will be developed. Both of these efforts are precursors to being able to apply for EPA Grant Funding, which will be necessary to address many of the identified issues. A portion of the funding, like in the 2005-2008 timeframe, will come from matching funds from the community including residents and contractors.

The whole process of reducing phosphorus export to the lake, finding the causes of the picocyanobacteria blooms and addressing those causes likely will take about five years to get things back in control, and then hopefully it will be much more of a maintenance issue. The improvements will come in steps as we are able to eliminate the problems. 

Keeping up the vigilance on the water quality through appropriate testing will tell us if we made the progress we hoped or whether there is still much more work to do. It is clear from the 2003 through 2008 effort, that the real danger is complacency in not staying on top of all the threats the lake is facing.

Please join us for the Highland Lake Association Public Forum held on Wednesday, March 7 at the Windham High School Gymnasium at 7 p.m. For more information, please contact Rosie Hartzler, President of the HLA through the HighlandLakeMaine.org website.

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