February 10, 2023

Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District a valued partner in Lakes Region

By Abby Wilson

The Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) works collaboratively with towns and nonprofits to protect natural resources and educate the public across the county.

One of the major focuses of the Cumberland County Soil &
Water Conservation District is to help protect the water
quality of local waterways, such as Crescent Lake in 
Conservation districts were invented after the Dust Bowl in the 1930s to serve each county nationwide. Names and duties vary but in Maine, these county districts are part of the Department of Conservation and Forestry.

Two major focuses of CCSWCD are water and soil. Water quality of lakes, streams, ponds, and rivers as well as erosion control are often key areas especially in the Sebago Lake area.

Ali Clift, the Education & Outreach Coordinator for CCSWCD, says that the Conservation District is headquartered in Windham and is a team that works together to solve issues, manage projects, and provide outreach to the community.

Clift said CCSWCD staff includes an engineer, district manager, project manager, educators, technician, and marketing professional.

Funding comes from the state and county but largely, about 90 percent, is funded by grants. The Conservation District does have a ‘Fee for service’ program which allows people and businesses to reach out for assistance.

This is a countywide initiative where the Conservation District offers one free hour of technical service. These projects often include fixing culverts or controlling erosion. It’s the job of the CCSWCD to recommend a course of action and refer land owners to an appropriate contractor.

CCSWCD collaborates with other nonprofit organizations. In Windham, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, the Lakes Environmental Association, the Portland Water District, and the Town of Windham are all partners.

With these collaborators and the community, the Conservation District can protect and manage watersheds, streams, lakes, and ponds; develop construction plans; assess stormwater and erosion; and implement urban agriculture.

Perhaps one of the largest tasks of the CCSWCD is to educate the community.

Classroom education is provided to middle schools in Windham. The Conservation District’s educators provide hands-on lessons to kids in collaboration with Portland Water District. Currently in Windham, students are raising brook trout eggs.

“Teachers have fish tanks and chillers with insulation panels right in their classrooms,” says Clift. “These children will watch the fish develop from eggs to stream stocking age.”

Another highlighted program is one that targets landowners. Yardscaping is a community workshop which includes presentations on reducing the use of fertilizers/pesticides, as well as converting lawns to other types of landscapes, instead of just grass.

Following up on these presentations, participants can apply concepts they’ve learned to their own yards.

“Choose to get soil test kits which test for nutrient deficiencies, pH, and heavy metals like lead,” says Clift. “It’s good to know what’s in your soil especially if you’re growing food.”

These workshops take place in the spring and fall across the county, with a rotating list of towns each year. Windham is scheduled to host a program this fall. The location and exact date are to be determined.

Every year, from Saco to Portland, the Conservation District asks garden and hardware stores if they want to participate in the Yardscaping program. The Conservation District then goes to these stores and puts stickers on products (compost, grass seed, fertilizers) that are Yardscaping ‘certified’ materials. Even Lowes, Walmart, and Home Depot are involved in this program.

CCSWCD also creates native plants displays at these garden centers to educate the public on the importance of vegetative buffers which stand between a body of water and a lawn.

These are naturalized areas of trees and shrubs and they help slow down water as well as filter it, Clift said.

You may also see the Conservation District at a local Farmer’s Market where they provide demonstrations, showcase Yardscaping materials, and sell compost bins, rain barrels, and supplies for other yard conservation projects.

Black Brook, Pleasant River, Highland Lake, Little Sebago Lake, Sebago Lake, Panther Pond, and Crescent Lake have been project areas for the program and CCSWCD is working on several projects in the Raymond and Windham area currently.

The Conservation District also is working with the Highland Lake Association, the Town of Windham, and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to identify plants for vegetative buffers on Highland Lake.

Portland Water District and the Conservation District collaborate on Sebago Lake projects and are focusing on watershed protection. Clift said that CSWCD is collaborating with Sebago Lake State Park to mitigate erosion with natural materials like plants and trees.

Across the county, professional trainings such as septic installation or state certifications can also be provided by the Conservation District. The CCSWCD organizes the Maine Stormwater Conference every other year, as well as the Urban Runoff 5K Race.

In both Cumberland and York counties, the Conservation District is working with pet owners to reduce dog and other pet waste. These programs are implemented from Portland to Biddeford.

You can access information on these programs, dates of workshops, lists of garden centers that have tagged Yardscaping materials, fact sheets, and more on the Conservation District’s website at https://www.cumberlandswcd.org/. <

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