May 25, 2018

Watershed survey completed at Highland Lake by Lorraine Glowczak

Example of clogged culvert
Over 30 Highland Lake residents volunteered to participate in a watershed survey on Saturday, May 19 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The purpose of the survey was to identify soil erosion sites within the Highland Lake watershed with the intention of learning more about the non-point sources of pollution that may be a factor in the phosphorus contribution to the lake.

Briefly, Highland Lake has experienced a gradual decline in water quality over the past four years as a result of an increase in algae; the cause is due to the excess input of phosphorus. This growth is referred to as Pico cyanobacteria bloom (also referred to as picoplankton bloom).

The lake has a high phosphorus level due to camp road runoff, soil erosion, fertilizer use, pet waste, septic issues and development. The watershed survey concentrated on non-point sources phosphorus, and in this case, soil erosion.

The morning began with a two-hour instructional session led by professionals from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Cumberland County Soil and Water District. The session included explanations on what to look for in soil erosion, how to document the sources, the various signs of erosion and ways to identify conservation practices for erosion prevention.

Upon completion of the morning session, the group separated into eight sectors, with each sector containing approximately three to five individuals. Each of the eight sectors were assigned specific areas to complete a portion of the watershed survey and led by technical leaders from DEP.

As a resident of Highland Lake, I volunteered to participate in the survey and was assigned to sector eight. This sector included the areas surrounding Little Duck Pond and the watershed portions on the west side of Falmouth and Babbidge Roads. a lay person in environmental science, I learned quite a bit about soil erosion. In my amateur observation, I discovered that the relatively untouched and non-manicured areas/residences of Little Duck Pond had very little soil erosion due to keeping the natural vegetation intact. Although the roads leading back to the camps experienced some soil erosion but where the road materials were used properly, the private and camp roads were in relatively good condition with minimal erosion.

Along the Falmouth and Babbidge Road portions of our survey, we discovered a little more soil erosion. Areas with gravel were faced with slightly more challenges in erosion than paved areas. 

Dennis Brown, a member of the Highland Lake Association and the Chair of the Highland Lake Leadership Team was also part of the sector eight survey and he shared his observations from the survey. “Paving on steep slopes can be an advantage over gravel.  However, if the right materials are used, with proper crown and water diversions, well-built gravel roads can result in much less erosion than we saw on Saturday.”

Example of soil erosion on a driveway
At the end of the day, all surveys were collected and will be examined to determine the high priority issues and to begin remediation of those issues. “We surely will know a lot more about the sources of phosphorus within the watershed and along with additional studies on potential alewife phosphorus contribution, if any, from their difficulties in easily leaving the lake,” Brown stated.

The results of the survey will be available within the next couple of months. If soil erosion is an issue on individual properties, there will be suggestions on possible ways to remediate the situation but there will not be a mandated remediation.

Brown was very impressed with Saturday’s survey. “I think the Survey was well run. Kudos to Kim White and Rosie Hartzler for pulling this all together, and invaluable in finding the most egregious phosphorus sources within the watershed.  It also helped create greater awareness to those within the watershed of the fragility of our natural resources and how almost everything we do to our environment has some impact.  This latter thought played out well with those we interacted with on Saturday, and hopefully more as we begin to address the more serious issues that we found.”

It is the hope that all residence in the Highland Lake watershed will take some form of responsible and active participation in remediation to prevent soil runoff. “We want to sow the seeds of collaboration and collective action to work together to do what needs to be done to reduce runoff into Highland Lake,” stated HLA President, Rosie Hartzler.

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