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 www.highlandlakemaine.org

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: www.highlandlakemaine.org