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Blue waters may turn to green slime if growth on lakes is unregulated

September 17, 2009
WAKEFIELD — The five lakes at the headwaters of the Salmon Falls are clean and blue. But algae could turn them into nasty a green pea soup if pollution controls are not implemented, according to consultants who spoke at a planning board meeting last week.

During a board meeting on Sept. 10, FB Environmental, of Portland, Maine, shared its buildout analysis for Great East Lake, Horn Pond, Lake Ivanhoe, Lovell Lake, and Wilson Lake. About 20 residents were in attendance.

Later this fall, a management plan, which will contain specific recommendations on how to maintain the lakes, will be presented. The Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance hired FB Environmental using funds from a state grant.

In Wakefield, full buildout is expected to occur in 2054 based on the average growth rate over the past 15 years. In the town of Acton, Maine, growth is projected to reach full buildout in 2041.

If Acton were included, full buildout would mean the addition of 9,000 more people in area, according to FB Environmental.

The major threat to the lakes doesn't come necessary from growth, however, said Forrest Bell of FB Environmental. Rather, the threat comes from a nutrient called phosphorous.

Phosphorous can be found naturally in the soil and can flow into the lake through erosion. It is also an ingredient in some fertilizers and detergents. Runoff from roads is another contributor.

"There is not a lot in the water in your lakes here," said Bell. "But add a little bit and the results can be catastrophic. Your lakes aren't about to turn pea soup green but over time they can."

During his talk, Bell presented a slide show in which residents saw what could happen to Great East Lake. The first slide showed a beautiful lake with blue water. The follow-up slides showed the lake turning an unattractive green color as the level of phosphorous rose. Maine has about 30 lakes that turn green every year, said Bell.

"In August and September people just can't use the lakes," said Bell.

Phosphorous is measured in small increments of parts per billion, he said.

FB Environmental projected how much phosphorous would be added to the water bodies in Wakefield at 30 percent buildout, projected to occur at about 2021.

Without controls, human activity in Wakefield would add an estimated 136 pounds phosphorous per year to the lakes. With controls, the amount is reduced to about four pounds. At 30 percent build-out there would be another 682 parcels developed in Wakefield near those lakes.

Bell and his assistant, Jennifer Jespersen, recommended several measures including: removal of grandfathering in zoning, increasing setbacks, encouraging cluster development, banning phosphorous fertilizers and detergents, increasing fines, and creating a septic system maintenance program.

Of all the lakes, the consultants seemed to think Lake Ivanhoe is the most vulnerable. It would be "prone to impairment" if phosphorous levels increase above average levels. There is also a lot of potential for growth around Lake Ivanhoe, said the consultants.

Between 1990 and 2005, Wakefield's population has grown 56.6 percent with an annual rate of 3.4 percent, according to FB Environmental's buildout analysis.

"Given the AWWA region's unique character and desirability as a residential and recreational destination, it's likely significant growth will continue to occur in Wakefield and Action well into the future," according to FB Environmental's report.

Full buildout refers to a point in the future when all the developable land in the area (around the lakes) has been taken based on zoning and environmental constraints.

According to FB Environmental, full buildout would mean the addition of 2,274 new buildings in the area surrounding Wakefield's portion of the lakes.

Some officials and residents at the meeting said the consultants overestimated what could be built. Planner Kathy Menici said FB Environmental didn't take into account subdivision regulations that would limit development in backland areas.

In response to the presentation, local builder Tom Dube said controlling phosphorous is important. He suggested retrofitting storm drains as a productive way of curbing phosphorous runoff. However, Dube didn't think the growth projections would prove accurate. Dube said in high school he heard some experts predict the whole country would be developed by the year 2000.

Another resident Pat Theisen said the town should try to control growth and make sure it comes in at a rate Wakefield can handle. Theisen said the town of Barrington has done a good job controlling growth but Statham has grown too quickly.

Charles Hodson said clean water is quickly becoming a valuable resource noting some western states don't have enough.

For more information about AWWA call 473-2500.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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