Report on the Paine Neighborhood Runoff Remediation Project
By Steve Center
Late last summer, a major work effort was completed on a project which addressed a long-standing and significant problem for Watchic Lake. Much of the Watchic watershed is on the Route 113 side of the lake, where the land descends steeply from Oak Hill. The Paine Historic Neighborhood is located in this area. A storm water runoff problem existed in the Paine Neighborhood for many years. The problem was that storm water off of Oak Hill accumulated quickly and ran across active pastureland, over both State and dirt roads, and through several neighborhood septic systems, depositing nutrient-laden runoff into the north end of the lake. The result was frequent flooding of Route 113 in the Paine Neighborhood, flooding of Neighborhood properties, and most disturbingly, deterioration in Watchic Lake water quality, as evidenced by the increasing growth of metaphyton algae in the lake, indeed, even during the winter months. Metaphyton algae is a green cotton-candy like growth that spreads fast in warm weather. Metaphyton is an indicator of nutrient overload. The volume of active runoff also resulted in unusual open water on the north-eastern shore during the winter.
The cause of the uncontrolled runoff was multifaceted – residential development, clear-cut timber harvesting, agricultural development, failure of historic control accommodations, and possibly other factors. Over time, individual Paine Neighborhood property owners each attempted to remedy the situation on their own land, but such efforts only tended to create collateral damage on their own, or abutting properties. There never was one single cause/party responsible for the issue, and all remedies appeared very expensive, consequently, it was impossible to get multiple parties to focus on creating a unified solution. Nevertheless, it was clear that something had to be done to stop this runoff for the sake of the lake.
WLA began to investigate options for addressing the Paine Neighborhood problem in 2008, after association members began to notice indicators of water quality decline, including the growth of metaphyton. WLA made progress during 2009, including bringing in Maine DEP, Cumberland County Soils and Water (CCSW) and the Town of Standish. The water quality experts told us that this source of heavy phosphorus loading posed a significant long-term risk to the lake – the whole lake. Over time, the metaphyton would spread, and water quality would diminish, if the source pollution could not be contained. We have worked too hard and come too far from the poor water quality present during the 1970s, to let that happen again.
In fall 2010, after talks with the Town of Standish, WLA committed to leading a unique private/public partnership to address the issue. There were three parties to the partnership: WLA, the Paine Neighbors, and the Town of Standish. An aerial survey was commissioned, engineering work begun, and fundraising commenced. The eventual solution involved a series of water control structures: retention berms, new ditching and swales, a retention pond, and filter beds. The DEP, CCSW and Town of Standish were critical and integral contributors to the proposed solution. Indeed, our relationships with these three entities are stronger now than ever before.
Several Paine Neighbors contributed their land for the control and containment structures. Also, a neighborhood horse farm (a nutrient contributor) joined the partnership creating the solution, and, further, began work with CCSW toward a federal nutrient management program grant.
WLA set an ambitious fundraising goal to fund the Paine Neighborhood work. We raised money from 1) landowners in the Paine Neighborhood, 2) other WLA members who do not own property in the Paine neighborhood, but who understood the long-term threat to the lake, 3) the Town of Standish, and 4) WLA itself. Raising money in the current economic climate was extremely difficult and the result was a tremendous success. As engineering work proceeded during the spring of 2011, it became clear that the budget for this project would exceed the fundraising goals. To remedy this issue, the WLA Board secured a line of credit which was partially offset by a Davis Conservation Foundation grant. Fund raising is ongoing in order to pay off the LOC. All of this work, fundraising included, took an enormous effort to compete.
The implemented solution functioned superbly, passing its first big test during Hurricane Irene in August. Several septic systems which, prior to the fix, were being inundated with runoff heading directly into the lake, are now functioning properly. Horse manure, which previously ran off the active pastures and into the lake, has been contained, with runoff moving through a filter bed at the edge of the pasture. Metaphyton has been reduced and is expected to decline further over time now that the nutrient loading has been stopped.
Gordy Billington, Town Manager for the Town of Standish, has praised the project, and especially the private/public partnership, as a model for dealing with problems of this sort. John Blake, from the CCSW Board of Supervisors praised the project and recommended it for a Davis grant, as did Wendy Garland, with the DEP Division of Watershed Management. Both have also lent their support to WLA’s 2012 nomination for a Maine Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award.
Watchic Lake Association played a leadership role in pulling together the unique private/public partnership behind this effort, raising funds in a very challenging economic environment, and promoting/managing the engineering/sitework which ultimately solved a major environmental problem for Watchic Lake – a problem which, until this point, appeared to lack a feasible solution. WLA promised transparency throughout the process with regular meetings and written communications to those impacted/ interested. We clearly expressed that this would be a journey and not an event and that the only way this could ever be brought to an effective conclusion, with results that would be lasting, was that everyone must be a participant throughout the entire process.
The Board of WLA concurs with Town Manager Billington that we have developed a model solution which can be replicated by other organizations trying to solve complex, multi-party issues in their area. Indeed, the project exemplifies WLA’s long-term commitment to leadership in preserving and protecting Watchic Lake.
"A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is:
"that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."
Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. In the continental US, there are 2,110 watersheds; including Hawaii Alaska, and Puerto Rico, there are 2,267 watersheds. For more information on watersheds visit http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/whatis.cfm.
Watchic Lake Watershed
The Watchic Lake Association (WLA) has a vested interest in the preservation of the watershed around Watchic Lake. The WLA has worked hard to receive grants to improve the watershed and educate lakefront owners on how to maintain and improve lake quality. In 1998, working closely with Maine's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the town of Standish, a Watershed Management Plan was created to continue to improve the water quality and protect the watershed.
Between 2000-2004, the WLA received a 319 grant with the goal of increasing awareness about problems that were impacting the watershed and increasing efforts to promote local stewardship. This was accomplished with technical consultations by the DEP to landowners seeking assistance to decrease the impact of their properties on the watershed. To read the full report of the Watershed project for Watchic Lake visit http://www.gulfofmaine.org/kb/uploads/14097/2000-18%20Watchic%20Lake.pdf
Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District
Dam Report - Watchic Lake 2012
The dam gate was closed on March 19, 2012, because of the early ice out. The Lake was at full pond on May 18 taking two months to fill, due to very light snow melt run off. The end of May came with heavy rains and the gate was opened on May 30 and not closed until June 10. During this time, we had additional heavy rains and the volume of water exceeded the capacity of the dam to drain water through the gate. The redesigned and lowered spillway could easily handle the volume. The water level was only at a maximum of 2 inches above the targeted level during the first week of June. Without the lowered spillway the lake level would have been considerably higher. For the rest of the summer the lake level was within the targeted range. The gate was opened to the first position on October 9 to lower the lake to winter levels at a slow rate. This was done to provide a more natural level change. On the October 28 the gate was fully opened for the winter.
The targeted level for the lake or full pond is the top of the dam spillway. We try to maintain this level within plus or minus three inches. While maintaining the level we also maintain continuous water flow out of the lake. This helps the lake water quality and is required for the downstream eco system. To accomplish this goal the top of the gate is 3 inches below the spillway when closed so that water flows over the gate when the lake is at full pond. When the lake level is more the 1 inch above full pond or a heavy rain is forecast the gate is opened. When the lake is back to full pond the gate is closed and water then flows over the gate. If the level is lowered below full pond we would not have the water to provide continuous flow out of the lake to maintain water quality and downstream health.
A visual inspection was made of the dam and the structure is in very good condition. A patch made in 1985 on the right wing wall fell out over the winter and will need minor repair. The lumber for the new gate has been cut and is drying in the gate house. We plan to build a new gate this summer and to install it next fall after the water level is lowered.