Latest News About Highland Lake

Highland Lake Watershed Survey

posted Sep 18, 2018, 4:17 PM by Joseph Bickard


Highland Lake survey seeks erosion sites

WINDHAM — A group of about 35 volunteers and technical support staff sacrificed most of their day on May 19 to help pinpoint possible sources of erosion in Highland Lake, which could be playing a role in the lake’s mysterious bloom.  See entire article by Matt Junker

The watershed survey of Highland Lake will include eight different sectors around the lake.

Want to read an excellent account of the excitement of a writer focused on "ice out ? "

posted Apr 25, 2018, 12:42 PM by Joseph Bickard

Check out this article from DownEast by Jane Crosen:

Questions loom with Highland Lake bloom

posted Apr 8, 2018, 5:56 AM by Joseph Bickard

an article from KEEPMAINECURRENT.COM by Matt Junker

The Windham Eagle features the Highland Lake public forum

posted Apr 7, 2018, 11:29 AM by Joseph Bickard   [ updated Apr 7, 2018, 11:30 AM ]

Grants Awarded to Highland Lake Association

posted Mar 30, 2018, 3:14 PM by Joseph Bickard

The Highland Lake Association has become the recipient of significant grants from the Towns of Falmouth and Windham. 


The Town of Falmouth awarded a $5000 grant to be applied to the extensive and in-depth water quality testing program that will be enacted at Highland Lake this summer.   Nathan Poore, Town Manager for Falmouth, indicated in his letter to the Highland Lake Association, “Thank you again for your continued passion and stewardship.”


The water quality testing program was devised through a collaborative effort that included multiple scientists from DEP, USM, UMO, UNH, Bigelow Labs, and members of the HLA water quality committee.  The testing effort led by Karen Wilson will focus of a variety of factors thought to be major contributors to the bloom that has occurred in Highland Lake for the past 4 seasons. 


In addition to the grant to the HLA from the Town of Falmouth, on Tuesday, March 27, the Windham Town Council approved the grant award of $10,000 to the Highland Lake Association. These funds will be utilized to mitigate high-priority sites on private roads In the Highland Lake watershed as Identified in the Watershed Survey, to be conducted May 19, 2018.


In contrast to the grant that was given by the town of Falmouth, the funds appropriated by the Town of Windham will be utilized as pass-through funds by the HLA.


This funding from the Town of Windham will become available to road associations who demonstrate the ability to provide matching funds (cash and in-kind match funds) toward fixing road issues that are contributing high levels of non-point source pollution (NPS) into Highland Lake.   Thus, the $10,00 award to the HLA, in effect becomes a total of $20,000 to be applied toward mitigating high-priority sites within the Highland Lake Watershed.


A Steering Committee, that will include HLA members, along with community representatives to oversee the allocation of the grant funds. 


The Highland Lake Association thanks the towns of Windham and Falmouth for this clear demonstration of their commitment to protect and revitalize Highland Lake.   

HIGHLAND LAKE PUBLIC FORUM - MARCH 7, 7PM, 2018, Windham High School Auditorium

posted Feb 20, 2018, 7:21 AM by Joseph Bickard   [ updated Feb 20, 2018, 10:52 AM ]


HIGHLAND LAKE PUBLIC FORUM March 7, 2018 | 7:00PM, Windham High School Auditorium 

Join your neighbors and friends at this discussion about the health of Highland Lake.

Learn about the mysterious bacterial bloom happening at the Lake.

Get involved! Learn how you can make a difference by being a steward of the Lake!

March 7, 2018 | 7:00 pm Windham High School Auditorium

This event is organized by the Highland Lake Leadership Team, a partnership between the Highland Lake Association, Town of Windham, Town of Falmouth, Maine DEP and the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The Science Behind The Bloom

posted Feb 2, 2018, 3:02 PM by Joseph Bickard

“The Science Behind The Bloom”

Lorraine Glowczak and Rosie Hartzler

Published in Windham Eagle, February 2, 2018

The Windham Town Council held a special meeting on Tuesday, focused on the Picocyanobacteria (Pcy ) bloom that has recurred in Highland Lake for the past 4 summers. 

Don Kretchmer, DK Water Resource Consulting (Wolf boro, NH) presented an overview of how lakes work, and then launched into the topic “Why the picocyanobacteria bloom in Highland Lake, and Why now?

Kretchmer explained that there have been no other documented instances of this type of bloom in New England.  Many factors are believed to contribute to the bloom including:  lake chemistry, food chain dynamics, erratic weather , climate change, agriculture, erosion and runoff from properties and roads within the water shed.

The primary driver of the Pcy  bloom is Phosphorus (P).  While P is a naturally occurring element in the soil, when soil is disturbed during development, P is released.  Then when it rains,  P is transported via runoff into Highland Lake.  P has been accumulating in HL for decades.  In the late 90’s P levels in HL were increasing as water clarity was decreasing, causing the DEP to list HL as impaired.  A massive effort and almost a $1 million was invested in a variety of projects around HL to reduce runoff and thereby reduce the P in HL. 

In 2010, the lake showed signs of recovery, yet, P levels were hovering around the 10 Parts per billion mark – a measure by which the DEP determines the level that a lake is able to handle P without turning eutrophic (decreasing water quality often characterized by algae, increased plant growth, and lowered oxygen).  

However, in 2014, the Pcy appeared,  and scientists are still working on figuring out what this new and very troubling phenomenon means.  Some of the questions that are on the front burner:

1.     Does the Pcy take up Phosphorus from the sediments in the lake and then rise to the top creating the cloudy (under 2 meter Secchi disk) conditions?

2.    Are there dynamics in the food chain that accelerate the Pcy  bloom?

3.    Does the increasing numbers of alewives in HL contribute to the bloom?

4.    What is the specific species (genetics) of the Pcy?

It is a very perplexing issue.  But there is a developing concerted effort being organized for the testing protocol that will occur in HL during the 2018 season.  This effort will potentially include scientists from UMO, UNH, USM, Lakes Environmental Association in collaboration with the HLA.

Kretchmer emphasized that everyone in the water shed needs to step up to the plate in the effort to reduce P in HL.  “There are no scenarios  where increased P will make the situation better at HL.” Shoreline property owners obviously need to be very aware of the capacity for their property to buffer potential runoff.  However property owners located a distance from the lake need to also take a look at how their property may contribute to P runoff.

Finally, Kretchmer affirmed the  WTC for engaging with this information – for being proactive in responding to the challenges inherent in the bloom .  Due to all the previous work of the HLA water quality team,  there is a significant bank of data that shows what the lake used to be like, and what folks want to return to. 

Kretchmer was joined by DEP, Jeff Dennis in a lively interactive question and answer period with the council regarding specifics of the situation at HL.  It is clear that there is much more to learn, and much more to digest in the every developing process of discovery at HL.  

Highland Lake Leadership Team

posted Jan 25, 2018, 6:53 AM by Joseph Bickard

This collaborative working group that includes representatives from the Towns of Windham and Falmouth, the Highland Lake Association, and as required, input from MDEP and the CCSWCD, continues its work toward becoming a force for coordinating ongoing efforts to protect Highland Lake. For more information click here

Murky origin of Highland Lake’s annual algae bloom has towns, scientists seeking answers.

posted Dec 19, 2017, 3:22 PM by Joseph Bickard   [ updated Dec 19, 2017, 3:24 PM ]

A bloom unlike any other in Maine has halted development near the lake on the Windham-Falmouth town line and caused concern about other lakes...... click here  to read further.

What is the Big Deal with Surface Water Protection?

posted Nov 24, 2017, 2:05 PM by Joseph Bickard

What is the Big Deal with Surface Water Protection?

Rosie Hartzler, President of the HLA

November 21, 2017


At the November 14 meeting of the Windham Town Council, an agenda item focused on proposed revisions to the Surface Water Protection Ordinances, a list generated as a result of the Moratorium Ordinance on Development within the Windham Highland Lake Watershed. 

And you might ask – so what?

And I would tell you that you have every right to ask that question.

The Moratorium on all Development enacted September 5, 2017 jolted the watershed community, and in fact caught a lot of people by surprise.  What exactly led to implementing what seemed to some as a drastic measure?

The bottom line is that it is all about Highland Lake. 

Most of you have heard about the  recurring  Pico cyanobacteria bloom (also referred to as picoplankton  bloom)  in HL.  This summer, the lake experienced  a 4th occurrence of this troubling phenomenon – a phenomenon that for about 4 weeks from mid- July through mid- August reduced water clarity to less than 2 meters . 

Even though repeated testing confirmed  that the outbreak was not toxic – this was little comfort to lake residents.  Like one person said, “When  I stand in knee deep water, I can’t see my feet!  “  

The reality is that HL has been a lake under stress for a very long time.  Since 1998, the lake has been on DEP’s watch list and determined to be a “lake most at risk from over development. 

Cyanobacteria  is in every lake, and even in the oceans.  But the way they are showing up as picoplankton blooms in freshwater lakes like HL, is extraordinary.   Lakes  where the blooms are exhibiting themselves, are also lakes that test for high nutrient loads – specifically the nutrients of Phosphorus and Nitrogen. 

It is well established that the total Phosphorus in Highland Lake is caused by non- point source pollution (runoff)  from the water shed.  This runoff is directly related to over development. 

It’s pretty obvious that the lake is over developed.  The most recent count enumerates 1000 residences in the watershed.  The negative impact of development on the lake is not just from shoreline properties.  To live in the Highland Lake watershed means that you are in fact part of this over development phenomenon.  This is because a watershed is basically a basin, and , at some point, everything and that means excess Phosphorus eventually ends up in the lake. 

 Average total Phosphorus  readings have been gradually increasing in HL. 

Jeff Dennis, Maine DEP, states it this way:  There has been a progression of total phosphorus concentrations from around 8 ppb (parts per billion)  in the mid 70’s to 10 ppb or more in recent years.  The increasing eutrophication culminated in what is assumed to be picoplankton blooms from 2014 – 2017.  (“Highland Lake Summary” , Jeff Dennis and Linda Bacon, DEP, September, 2017)

This summary is available at

Mean of Monthly Mean TP in ppb from 1974 to 2016 for years with data.(ppb x year)

This is where we come back to where this article started.  Because of a lake under stress from over development,  things have to change.  The current ordinances are not sufficient to protect this lake.   

The more sobering truth is that the economy of Windham and Falmouth could be impacted by the crisis at HL.  Think about the tax base that is tied to the residences in the watershed.  We are all in this together.  It is going to require a concerted effort to turns things around. 

SO what are we going to do about it?

First of all, recognize that we are all in this together. The community created this crisis.  Together we have the power to solve it.   

Here at Highland Lake, the Highland Lake Association (HLA) is a dedicated and energized group of volunteers committed to preserving and protecting this valuable resource. The HLA is open for new members and folks interested in helping with the effort to protect the lake. 

The HLA has  organized a Science Roundtable for December 1 – a closed meeting of scientists, academics and water quality experts to focus on what is causing the picocyanobacteria blooms in Highland  Lake and what can we do about it.   Following this roundtable, a public forum will be held where residents have the opportunity to learn more about cultivating an effective community response to this troubling phenomenon.

The HLA has become an active participant with Windham and Falmouth  in reviewing land use ordinances, to ensure that these ordinances are effectively protecting Highland Lake.  Given the status of the lake, there is considerable pressure to get it right. 

To learn more about how you can become involved in the process to review the Surface Water Protection Ordinances, contact the HLA, or your town councilor. 

Finally, let us know your ideas for creating a climate where the protection of Highland Lake and the other valuable natural resources are balanced with economic progress.  For more information visit:

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