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Are you Buff Enough?

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

What We Learned From the Buffer Workshop.

1. Efforts to Reduce Erosion in the Watershed

Through erosion control projects, 7 Lakes Alliance aims to reduce the amount of excess phosphorus entering the lakes and prevent harmful algal blooms. Since 1999, 7 Lakes Alliance has received funding from the Clean Water “319” Program, which refers to the United States Environmental Protection (US EPA) Agency Clean Water Act grant program that funds work to improve water quality. In the Belgrade Lakes watershed, East Pond, North Pond, McGrath Pond-Salmon Lake, and Long Pond all have US EPA approved management and protection plans. The Great Pond Management Plan is currently in development and will be completed by December.

Since 1999, 7 Lakes Alliance has received 319 program grants totaling $1.14 million leveraging match funds that have resulted in $1.7 million in erosion control projects throughout the watershed. A 319 grant also helped fund the East Pond alum treatment in 2018. Threatened and impaired lakes throughout Maine can qualify for these funds, but there must also be a plan to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs), such as planting buffers, rain gardens, armoring shorelines, installing infiltration steps, and other tools to divert runoff from the lakes.

2. Phosphorus Levels in North Pond

At the end of the day, the purpose of erosion control is to improve water quality and prevent algal blooms. Unfortunately, phosphorus levels in North Pond are currently quite high.

Water quality normally becomes worse in the summer when there is more phosphorus entering the lake and less oxygen in the sentiments of the lake to reduce the phosphorus in the water. Phosphorus is essentially plant food, so algae absorbs the excess phosphorus, grows in size and volume, and reduces clarity in the water. This year’s phosphorus levels in North Pond are in algal bloom territory, driving our urgency to reduce phosphorous entering the lakes by addressing erosion problems in our watershed.

Secchi Depth and Phosphorus measurements in North Pond taken from April through June of this year. Lower Secchi Depth values correspond with poorer water clarity.
Water Quality in North Pond, 1970 to 2020. During the 2018 algae bloom, Secchi Depth was less than five feet.

3. The Bigger the Buffer, the Better

When it comes down to excess phosphorus in the lakes, dirt and erosion are the biggest factors we can all address. In the 1970s, shoreline zoning laws mandated that all new development must be 100 feet back from the shoreline, but there are many homes built prior that are far closer, particularly on North Pond. Planting vegetated buffers along shorelines, ditches, and streams helps slow the flow of runoff into the lake, allowing excess surface water (carrying phosphorus) to infiltrate back into the ground. Buffers can be composed of native shrubs, trees, flowering plants, and perennials.

The bigger the buffer, the better. Ten feet of buffer is better than zero, 25 feet is better than 10, and 100 is the best of all. Even a couple feet of plants can protect the soil while preserving your lake view. If you do have a concentrated flow of water in a channel on your property, make sure that it doesn’t go straight into the lake and instead diverts into the plants or woods.

Think of “erosion as death by a thousand cuts," said Keynote Speaker, Charlie Baeder of 7 Lakes Alliance. Team effort is essential to preventing excess soil and phosphorus from entering the lake and causing algal blooms. The single most important thing people can do to prevent erosion on their property is to plant buffers and divert runoff away from the lake. A clean lake is a reflection of all of us!

4. The YCC Can Help!

The 7 Lakes Alliance Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) works to reduce erosion in the watershed, offering free or decreased cost labor on eligible projects while providing meaningful summer employment for high school and college students. The YCC can help you put in a buffer, among other strategies to reduce runoff into the lake. Sign up for a YCC project.


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