At their annual meeting on Thursday, July 28, Highland Lake Association (HLA) members received a water quality update on the lake that borders the towns of Windham, Falmouth and Westbrook. University of Southern Maine Associate Research Professor Karen Wilson, who has studied the lake and the recurring pico cyanobacteria bloom (also referred to as picoplankton bloom) with student scientists for the past couple of years, was the first expert to speak. “We’ve scienced the heck out of this lake,” she stated to the room of approximately 75 attendees.
She spoke about the various volunteer efforts and collaboration among community members and residents which have made it possible to leverage the funds needed to study the purpose and possible causes of the bloom. “I can’t believe the kind of engagement of the Highland Lake Association in trying to find out and rectify the problem,” Wilson stated. “Together, we have collected a lot of data to determine phosphorus levels and water quality issues.”
The past few years, the lake has seen a rise in the picoplankton bloom, with a distinctive pattern of reaching a peak in the bloom during the months of July and August. But ironically, the bloom did not occur this year. Wilson stated a few possibilities as to why it is not present. “The weather this spring was different than in the past,” she began. “It was colder and wetter, causing the bottom of the lake to remain warm which means less dissolved oxygen for the alewives. This can make a difference in what is happening with the lake.”
Wilson went on to explain that phosphorus is a major contributing factor to the health of Highland Lake and finding ways to eliminate its presence in the lake is of the utmost importance and efforts in its prevention must continue.
Wendy Garland of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, who has been working in collaboration with the HLA and their watershed management plan, along with Heather Huntt from Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, gave a brief preview of the watershed survey findings that occurred last spring. They also provided information on prevention techniques, tools and strategies to avert phosphorus from entering the lake.
“Now that we have identified the biggest culprits, we are working to fix those things that make the biggest impact,” Garland stated. “Private Roads are the major influence on phosphorus buildup, but that is no surprise,” Garland stated. “Soil erosion is also a major fact. Septic tanks play a role as well but is not of the greatest concern, although it is an issue.”
Huntt offered solutions on the above culprits that include educating HLA residents on private roads about the importance of maintenance plans. “If there is no maintenance plan in place, it can be more costly in the long run,” she stated.
Huntt also stated that education, outreach and workshops will be offered to provide awareness surrounding septic care and upkeep and soil erosion prevention. “We hope to prevent new problems through local ordinances and outreach to residents.”
Garland ended the presentation piece of the meeting by stating that it is their goal to have a finalized management plan completed by the end of next year.