The Water Quality Initiative
Representatives of the Maine Lakes Resource Center, the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, the Belgrade Lakes Association, Colby College and others have come together to form the Water Quality Steering Committee to craft a comprehensive ten-year plan to address the issue of water quality in the Belgrade watershed. “We are working towards a watershed plan because we recognize that the lakes in the watershed are interconnected: chemically, physically, biologically and economically,” said Colby Chemistry Professor Whitney King, “It makes sense for us to work collectively because there is a tremendous economy of scale and collaboration of knowledge to be gained. The idea behind a watershed plan is to look at what we would need to do as a water- shed to improve water quality across all of the lakes.”
King and colleagues Linda Bacon of the Maine DEP Lakes Division, former DEP chief lakes biologist Roy Bouchard, lake expert Peter Kallin and others collaborated over the summer on a systematic analysis of forty years of Belgrade lake data. “We’ve been working to try to understand the status of all of our lakes and how we can use the available data to show where we are now, where we think the lakes are going and, therefore, what remediation strategies we should take.” King said. The group identified several key metrics to evaluate water quality over time including increasing levels of phosphorus, hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (no oxygen). Data from nearby lakes that experience extensive algae blooms, such as China Lake and Lake Auburn, show a trajectory that resulted in “tipping” (turning green for most of the summer) in a relatively short period of time — three to five years. Comparing Belgrade lake data with this data reveals similar trends triggering concern among the scientists. “I’m pretty conservative on these issues,” said King. “And I am going to become less conservative moving forward. The reason is that if I say I am really worried about water quality decline and I’m wrong, the worst case scenario is that your lake stays in good condition. But if I’m right, that’s bad. It’s much less expensive to fix a problem before it becomes severe. It doesn’t cost nothing; there’s real money involved in improvements.”
“It’s a question of how cautious or not cautious we want to be. We need to be scientifically rigorous. We need to communicate the uncertainties to people. I worry that at times we are a little too hesitant to raise the alarm and the risk is that ten years from now people will be saying the lake bloomed and nobody told us.”
The Water Quality Steering Committee plans to involve as many local stakeholders as possible in this process including lake associations, municipalities, businesses, property owners and residents.