Latest News About 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:

Why Picocyanobacteria (Pcy) and Why Now in Highland Lake?

posted Oct 4, 2017, 4:20 PM by Joseph Bickard   [ updated Oct 4, 2017, 4:20 PM ]


Potential Contributing Factor









Land Development




Other urban lakes in Maine are not experiencing a bloom.

Nutrient Loading (P &N)




Although there has been no consistent trend of average annual P concentrations, more intensive study is required leading up to and during the Pcy bloom to determine whether there is a correlation between nutrient levels (P&N) and Pcy growth during that short period.  Since Pcy’s are present in most water bodies, the mere presence of Pcy’s is not because of Highland Lake’s higher nutrient levels.

Chemistry (Ca & Mg)




“Hardwater” lakes favor some types of zooplankton while “softwater” lakes favor others.  Also influences solubility of  nutrients. Very limited data available.

Acid Rain




Acid rain can lead to “softening” of lake water (see above).

Dissolved Oxygen




Lake has experienced low DO in Hypolimnion since 1990s.  Pcy bloom is relatively recent occurrence.

Water Temperature




Bloom occurs during warmest portion of summer.

Weather (Air Temp & Precipitation)




Bloom has occurred both in dryer/warmer years and wetter/cooler years.

Zooplankton Depletion




Zooplankton population collapses during bloom.

Alewife Return




Predation by alewives likely contributes to collapse of zooplankton population. *Alewife return numbers and associated predation of zooplankton are variable from year to year.





Rental and camp septic systems at maximum usage during bloom period but limited data shows no notable increase in N loading to lake during that period.

Boat Traffic




Traffic has not significantly increased over last 4 years.





Firework usage has increased but they now have lower P content. No notable P increase after July 4.


“Invasive” Wildlife




Eagles have returned but they would have only helped in reducing alewife population.

Fish Stocking




Stocked game fish have likely been replaced by native bass population since the cessation of the stocking program, thus no change in overall alewife predation.


Note: The above table reflects the general level understanding, as of September 26, 2017, of the picocyanobacteria bloom in Highland Lake that has occurred during a three to four week period over the past four summers.  Since phosphorus is considered to be the limiting nutrient for algae growth in freshwater systems, and the phosphorus levels are generally above the healthy lake target of 10 ppb that was established in the 2003 Phosphorus Control Action Plan, current phosphorus levels are a major concern in light of both the picocyanobacteria and metaphyton blooms that currently occur in the lake.  Sources of information used to create the table include data collected by the Highland Lake Association Water Quality Committee, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MEDEP), Portland Water District, various academic institutions, experts associated with the various academic institutions, technical peer reviewed papers, individuals within the MEDEP, and various online sources.

A Report about Highland Lake by Maine DEP

posted Oct 4, 2017, 4:12 PM by Joseph Bickard

Highland Lake Summary

Jeff Dennis and Linda Bacon

Division of Environmental Assessment, Maine DEP

September 2017


The following is a brief summary of the water quality history (1974 to 2016) of Highland Lake and of some of the efforts that have been taken to protect and improve that water quality.  First there is a brief overview of the process of eutrophication.  Next, a timeline is used to chronologically track relevant conditions and events.  This is followed by discussions of the progression of water quality conditions in the lake and of the Total Maximum Daily Load Report (TMDL) that was completed in 2003.

Action Items – Highland Lake Association – 2017 – 2018

posted Sep 26, 2017, 4:27 PM by Joseph Bickard

1.      Collaborating with the Town of Windham to re visit the ordinances and zoning regulations with the goal of developing ordinances that more effectively address non-point sources of pollution, and to determine appropriate land use regulations to reduce the environmental impacts of development within the HL watershed.

2.     With the purpose of discovering the root causes of the Picocyanbacteria blooms at Highland Lake, we will collaborate with the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District (CCSWCD)  in hosting a two part forum:

a.    The first part will focus on a roundtable of the experts – scientists, academics, researchers, water quality specialists, engineers, and a consultant   coming together to review the data, review the possible reasons for the picocyanobacteria bloom – with the goal of figuring out what is the cause of the bloom and what are we going to do about it.

b.    The second part of this forum will be an open meeting for the public where the major findings are presented as well as being a forum where people can ask questions to get clarity about how the PCB bloom will continue to impact HL.

3.     In the effort to determine why Highland Lake contains too many nutrients, the HLA will be collaborating with CCSWCD in conducting a comprehensive Watershed Survey.  The purpose of this survey is to identify the sources of non-point source pollution; in other words where are the excess nutrients coming from?  Once those sites are identified, then developing a plan for remediating those sites. 

The planning for this survey will occur this fall and winter, with the projected survey to be conducted in March and April, 2018.


4.     There will be a concerted effort to re-energize a Highland Lake Leadership team – a team that will include the T  of W and F, DEP, the HLA, CCSWCD, and other  selected agencies to hold regular meetings (at least on a biannual basis )  in an ongoing effort to implement effective watershed management practices in the HL watershed. 


Windham Town Council Enacts Moratorium on certain Development in Highland Lake Watershed

posted Sep 26, 2017, 4:17 PM by Joseph Bickard   [ updated Sep 26, 2017, 4:25 PM ]

At its September 12th meeting, The Windham Town Council enacted a “Moratorium Ordinance on Development within the Highland Lake Watershed.”    The Moratorium will halt any new development in our watershed that has not received final approval for an initial period of 180 days, with extensions available as long as we do our part to implement best management practices. The Moratorium is in direct response to the serious concerns related to the deteriorating water quality in Highland Lake.

The Moratorium is the result of an intense three months of collaborative effort by Highland Lake Association, Highland Lake watershed residents and the towns of Windham and Falmouth in response to the alarming recurrence of a picocyanobacteria bloom for a fourth season in Highland Lake.  The community has determined that a moratorium is necessary to provide the opportunity for the towns to review the town’s current code of ordinances and zoning regulations to determine appropriate modifications or updates that will reduce the environmental impacts of development within the Highland Lake watershed. 

Highland Lake residents responded enthusiastically to this announcement, and also expressed a commitment to renewed efforts within the watershed to implement best management practices that include:  regular maintenance and upgrading of private roads, installing and improving buffers on shoreline properties, regular maintenance to septic systems, and when necessary to upgrade outdated systems.  It should be noted that all these improvements and ongoing maintenance would be permitted under the Moratorium regulations. 

In addition, a copy of the Moratorium is available below.

Highland Lake Association President Rosie Hartzler presented a list of action items that the HLA will focus on during the upcoming year.  For more information, see the post “Action Items for 2017 – 18” 

Council Passes Highland Lake Moratorium

posted Sep 18, 2017, 1:17 PM by Joseph Bickard

WINDHAM — “Nobody has said ‘no’ to anything. What we’re saying is ‘whoa.'”

That’s what Windham Town Councilor Donna Chapman said Tuesday night before the council voted 6-0 to enact a 180-day emergency moratorium on development in the Highland Lake watershed.

The move appears to have effectively stalled new construction around the lake for the time being as officials seek to gather more information about the health of the lake.

The moratorium temporarily halts clearing, earth moving, vegetation removal and construction of driveways, parking spaces or patio surfaces in areas larger than 500 square feet. It impacts a wide range of development in the watershed – from larger projects like the proposed Highland Views manufactured housing park and mixed-use development to single-family homes.

Both a developer and an individual hoping to build a single-family home near the lake expressed reservations about the moratorium Tuesday night before the council voted.

Though several councilors said they weren’t trying to target any specific projects, the Highland Views proposal from Chase Custom Homes & Financing of Westbrook has repeatedly been highlighted as a concern by the local lake association and has come up in past council discussions on the moratorium.

John Chase, owner of Chase Custom Homes, suggested that the councilors should have facts and logic to back up a moratorium before voting.

“You took an oath, I read your oath, and you need to make sure that you follow the oath of what you signed up for. And I don’t think you’re doing it, unless you know the facts and logic for an emergency moratorium,” Chase said.

Chase’s lawyer, Richard Abbondanza questioned whether the move met the town’s own standard for an emergency moratorium.

“Your charter is very clear what needs to be proven, and the draft paperwork that you have submitted for the public states what that is. And there needs to be a showing to meet a public emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace,” Abbondanza said. “…(I)f it’s going to be done on an emergency basis, there’s a very high standard you have to be satisfied that has been met. And I would question whether or not that standard has been met.”

Abbondanza said Chase has a vested interest in protecting property values at the lake.

“The last thing that I want to do is this – hurt that lake,” Chase said. “I’m going to move there, so I’m going to have a home there. And I have children there … and you think I want them swimming in a problem? Not so.”

“If you stop me for six months, you’re probably going to hurt that lake even more if you don’t let me go in there and protect the lake,” he continued. “And I’m going to put up the necessary barriers to make that happen.”

In a later interview, Chase said he has invested $1.3 million in his Highland Views project over the seven months it has been in the approval process.

Larger developments are not the only projects that will be caught up in the moratorium. Nancy Cloutier told the council Tuesday she purchased a lot near the lake in June with the understanding she could build a house. She had been hoping to begin construction as soon as possible.

“I’m not a developer, I’m just a person wanting to build my home. I don’t know about water stuff and all that. This is new to us,” Cloutier said. “I just don’t think it’s fair to us.”

Cloutier said after the meeting that she only learned of the moratorium in the last week from her driveway contractor, who had also just been alerted. She has a permit to build the driveway, but not to build the home.

Despite the concerns raised by Cloutier, Chase and Abondonza, the councilors present unanimously approved the moratorium, which they had discussed in draft form at last week’s meeting. Councilor Timothy Nangle was absent Tuesday night.

“I can understand not everybody will be happy with our decision, but I stand wholeheartedly behind the moratorium,” Chapman said.

Members of the Highland Lake Association, who made the initial request for the moratorium, appeared happy with the vote, applauding it later at the meeting. They have argued that the lake could be nearing a “tipping point” of water quality. Located mainly between Windham and Falmouth with a smaller portion in Westbrook, the lake has seen a mysterious but temporary bloom of cyanobacteria during part of the past four summers.

Councilor Jarrod Maxfield wasn’t particularly happy with either the lake association or developers for their respective roles and actions in the process.

“I’m pretty frustrated with most everybody in this room, to be honest. And I think we should all take a look at how this whole process unfolded,” Maxfield said. He said he was frustrated that the lake association didn’t get involved in the process sooner and that developers didn’t speak before the council until Tuesday night.

A  moratorium presents an opportunity for all parties to work together, he said.

“I feel horrible that your development gets caught up in it. I feel horrible that that woman in the back, who’s purchased something, and now will be delayed in building, gets caught up in it,” Maxfield said. “But at the end of the day, if that lake tips – the funny thing is, you’re all going to be in the same boat, pun intended. And it’s going to be a boat surrounded by murky, dead water.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

1-10 of 19