Wacky winter threatens our lakes

by Ursula Burke

Other than ice fishermen, most lake lovers in mid-coast Maine cheered at the short, relatively mild winter of 2016.  On Sheepscot Pond in Palermo, the ice was on the lake from mid-January to mid-March, the shortest time since records started being kept by local people in the late 1800’s.  So why the headline portending trouble?  Can’t we just enjoy what nature has given us without worrying?

Here, in simple terms, is why what we can’t see can spell big trouble.  When winter ice melts early the upper layer of lake water has a longer period of time to warm up before the fall cool down starts.  A hot summer adds to this situation.  Colder lake water lies in a separate layer at the bottom and doesn’t mix with the warm top layer until fall.  It can become oxygen starved affecting the aquatic creatures living in the depths.   The eventual lack of oxygen releases natural elements into the water, the most damaging being phosphates.   These stimulate the growth of algae and can cause algae blooms and cloudy, greenish water.  This seems to happen suddenly, but in actuality is part of the cycle of actions that started when the ice melted early.

The Sheepscot Lake Association (SLA) runs a number of water quality testing programs including the most recently added Dissolved Oxygen measurements which plumb the water in the deepest part of the lake on a regular basis starting in early June.  The SLA does inform the community of the results.

Individual property owners can do something to help protect the health of the lake.  The SLA has launched LakeSmart, a program under the auspices of the Maine Lakes Society, which offers free assessments of waterfront properties and prepares a report with comments and suggestions for land owner action to decrease lake pollution.  The biggest external threat to lakes is storm water run-off which erodes the land carrying soil, pollutants, phosphates, etc. into the water.    Anyone interested in becoming LakeSmart can contact Ursula Burke at 781-561-5541 or via email sheepscotlakeassoc@gmail.com.

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