Water level, weeds major topic at Webber Pond Association annual meeting

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Low water levels and a proliferation of weeds were the major topics of discussion during the annual Webber Pond Association meeting held on August 27, at the Vassalboro Community School.

Water levels on the pond have continued to drop since about mid-June. As of August 29, the water level was seven inches below the spillway. An ideal depth would be two inches below the spillway. With water levels that low, with a shallow pool like Webber, that is enough to create problems for almost every dock on the whole lake, according to Frank Richards, president of the association. “I understand the tendency to point the finger of blame,” he said. “However, I would argue that this is more of an instance where mother nature presented unmanageable conditions.”

According to the dam management plan presented by the Department of Environmental Protection in the early 1990s, the ideal depth is two inches below the spillway, so periodic adjustments are always needed throughout the summer to match the inflow and outflow. “Normally, a few boards are out during July,” explained Richards. “I’ve seen as many as two feet of boards out in July to balance heavy rainfall. Normally, all the boards are back in by August, when low rainfall is common.”

Richards went on to explain, “with the benefit of hindsight, we would have been better off to put in the last six inches of boards in early July instead of mid-July, two weeks earlier. Had we known there would be almost no rain from June on, we would have. If we had put that last six inches of boards in a couple of weeks earlier, I don’t think it would have made much difference. It’s hard to keep the pool close to the spillway when there’s almost no water entering the lake.”

The lack of rain, low water levels, warmer than normal water temperatures have contributed to the proliferation of Elodea Canadensis, or American pond weeds. Many of the causes for the thick weeds are mostly a guess, according to association vice president Charles Backenstose. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” According to Nate Gray, biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the vegetation may be a nuisance, but it is harmless.

In summation, Richards said that in general things continue to go well on Webber Pond, with the water quality likely being the best ever prior to mid-July.

Backenstose confirmed that statement when he reported Secchi disk readings that showed clear water down to 21 feet in May, near record clarity. Since July 15, the Secchi disk readings have fallen to six feet. However, the water had begun to clear up by the end of August. “Some of the south end of the lake has experienced some floating “collections” late last week,” he added. “I believe the lack of rain has somewhat worsened the situation as little water is entering or leaving the lake to help with some flushing of algae.”

Bob Nadeau, Webber Pond Assn. representative to the China Regional Lakes Alliance noted that the association is available for erosion control work on property owners’ shoreline. With work being done by the Youth Conservation Corps, the group provides landowner consultations, hands-on erosion control work, design and project management, and courtesy boat inspectors. More information is available by contacting Jim Hart, CRLA president, 877-7125 or jimhart35@outlook.com, or Josh Platt, KCSWCD engineer, 622-7847 or josh@kcswcd.org. The group is always looking for projects.

Nadeau also reported of being in conversations with representatives of LakeSmart from China Lake and Three Mile Pond, about the possibility of organizing a group for Webber Pond.

Officers re-elected were President Frank Richards, Vice President Charles Backenstose, Secretary Rebecca Lamey and Treasurer Phil Haines. Directors re-elected included Robert Bryson, Scott Buchert, Mary Bussell, Darryl Fedorchak, Roland Hallee, Phil Innes, Jennifer Lacombe, Robert Nadeau, John Reuthe and James Webb. New directors elected were Susan Barham[Traylor and Stephen Pendly.

With little discussion, the drawdown date was set for Monday, September 19. It was recommended that unless deep water is available at your dock, most boats should be pulled either the Saturday or Sunday prior to the Monday date.

Before adjournment, it was motioned by a member to review the by-laws and make changes to only allow landowners and taxpayers who abutt the pond to be voting members of the association. After much heated, and at times, contentious discussion, the motion failed overwhelmingly, 36-4.

“The content of by-laws should always be open to review,” said Richards. However, “the officers and directors in 2012 were unanimous that being open [membership] was preferable for the Webber Pond Association. I think the consensus is still there.”

Regional biologist gives opinion

[sam_pro id=”0_3″ codes=”true”]
by Nate Gray
Regional biologist, Maine Department of Marine Resources

Frank (Richards) and I went out in his boat to look at a floating island of weeds.  What I keyed out was elodea Canadensis.  Is it possible I was mistaken?  Unlikely, as I’ve looked at gobs of the stuff but still possible.  Given the level of angst about the “weed” issue in Webber I’m going to take another look at some different spots.  Many of the ponds in the mid-Maine basin are experiencing “better” water quality this year and there are multiple reasons for this.  Very low rainfall (drought) and higher than average atmospheric temps (and by default that includes water temps).  This can set up a dynamic in ponds that strongly stratifies the water.  The thermocline becomes very pronounced and through this effect limits the amount of phospherous available.  We’ve had very few storm events this summer.

Nate Gray

Nate Gray, regional biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, displays Elodea Canadensis, also known as American pondweed, he plucked out of Webber Pond recently. File photo

It takes a good blow to disrupt the thermocline and allow the phospherous trapped in the anoxic zone to mix with the water above it.  Make no mistake, this will happen at one point or another.  A good strong wind will drive the water to the southwest shore (assuming a Nor’easter here).  All that water will have to go someplace – down.  The further into the season we get the lower the pond surface temps will be thereby “weakening” the thermocline.  Once that lens is broken there is a lot of phospherous available to mix in the upper water column.  Once the phospherous gets there…..boom!  Phytoplankton bloom!.  The pond goes green.  Meanwhile this thermocline/water clarity issue will in turn favor greater light penetration.  This greater light penetration will induce more plant growth.  In some cases explosive growth.  Especially in the shallower reaches of the pond, i.e. the north end.  The patch that Frank took me out to was about 2-3 acres of dense growth.  So, I think another visit to the pond is in order.

Webber Pond vegetation: weeds or milfoil?

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

There appears to be misconceptions, or maybe misinformation, circulating that the proliferating vegetation in Webber Pond is Eurasian milfoil.

Nate Gray, regional biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources was summoned by Webber Pond Association President Frank Richards to investigate. Gray responded by making a trip to the pond. In a boat, they entered the “field” of weeds at the north end of the lake. Upon close inspection, Gray concluded, as have others, that the vegetation is Elodea canadensis, or American pondweed or waterweed. Gray elaborated that the plants are a major nuisance, but they are harmless.

Eurasian milfoil

Eurasian milfoil

Richards said, “Nate is a qualified person. He and any other qualified person will confirm that it’s Elodea.”

American Waterweed or Pondweed is a perennial aquatic plant, and is native to most of North America.

The plant grows rapidly in favorable conditions and can choke shallow ponds and canals. It requires summer water temperatures of 68° – 77° and moderate to bright light.

Young plants initially start with a seedling stem with roots growing in mud at the bottom of the lake. More roots are produced at intervals along the stem, which may hang free in the water or anchor into the bottom.  It grows indefinitely at the stem tips, and single specimens may reach lengths of 9-1/2 feet or more.

It lives entirely under water, with the only exception being the small white or pale purple flowers which float to the surface but are still attached to the plant by delicate stems.

American pondweed

American pondweed

The plant will spawn seed capsules that will spread and ripen under water. They flower from May to October.

Elodea canadensis is native to most of North America and was used as an aquarium plant.

On the other hand, Eurasian milfoil, Myrio­phyllum spicatum, was likely first introduced to North America in the 1940s. By the mid-1970s, water milfoil had covered thousands of acres in British Columbia and Ontario. It is now found across most of North America where it is recognized as a noxious weed.

In lakes or ponds where native aquatic plants are not well established, the Eurasian plant can quickly spread. It can be deduced that native aquatic plants have established themselves firmly in Webber Pond. The weed can grow from broken off stems which increases the rate in which the plant can spread and grow. That is why it is important to check all boats, propellers and trailers before launching the vessel in various lakes. Plants can easily be transported from one lake to another.
Since 2000, hand-harvesting of milfoils has shown much success as a management technique. It is virtually impossible to completely irradicate the species once it has established itself. Therefore, continuous maintenance must be done in order to control its range.

But getting back to Webber Pond, biologists at the DMR have assured everyone that the weeds in Webber Pond are not the invasive milfoil, but the annoying pondweed.

Many anglers have expressed frustration when trying to navigate the lake, or attempt to put in a day of fishing. Some areas of the lake are virtually impassable by boat.

According to Richards, “this is more of an instance where Mother Nature has presented us with unmanageble conditions for this year.”

CRLA Youth Corps installs rock ramp on White House Road bridge

Submitted by Frank Richards,
President, Webber Pond Association

Since approximately 2010, the China Region Lakes Alliance, the Three Mile Pond Association, and the Maine Department of Marine Resources have been slowly improving fish passage on Seaward Mills Stream, which connects Three Mile and Webber ponds.

This year the Youth Conservation Corps installed a rock ramp at the old cement culvert on the White House Road to help sea-run alewives, navigate the “lip,” when they return from the ocean to spawn in May. However, it will help all species move in and out of the pond, particularly trout in the spring and bass during the summer.

White House Road bridge before

Before the ramp was installed.

The lip on the old cement culvert is over a foot deep, which is enough to totally stop fish passage at low flows. Rock ramps are one of the simplest and cheapest methods to fix a problem like that.

White House Road bridge after

After rock ramp was installed.

It took a morning to dump the rocks and arrange them as a ramp. Bigger rocks were carefully placed to establish current breaks, which will provide an easier entrance into the culvert for fish headed upstream to Three Mile Pond.

I’d like to encourage trout anglers to give this spot a try in late April and early May. Those breaks should provide an interesting fish holding area, when the water is higher. Access to the site is easy.

Next spring will bring a re-evaluation. Almost surely, adjustments will be needed. That’s the beauty of a small scale project. You can make continuous low cost improvements, until you get what you want.

Many people and organization worked on this. The Three Mile Pond Association provided the rocks, the Youth Conservation Corps provided the labor, China Region Lakes Alliance provided the permitting and the Department of Marine Resources provided the design.

Youth Conservation Corps and Department of Marine Resources

The combined crew (Youth Conservation Corps and Department of Marine Resources), taken a little after the work was finished. Please note future biologist John Gray in the center of the photo.
Photos courtesy of Frank Richards, President of Webber Pond Association.

Beneficial nuisance on Webber Pond

Webber Pond Association President Frank Richards recently stated in an email to lake residents, “Everyone who has been out in a boat or raked weeds off their shoreline this summer has noticed the extreme proliferation of a long stringy weed. There’s an actual floating island in the northwest bay, so thick you can’t take a boat through it.” Because of his concern, Richards contacted Nate Gray, a biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, asking for him to go to Webber Pond to observe the  proliferation of weeds. “I was pretty sure it was a native plant growing in proliferation because of the drought, slightly lower water, and more sunlight,” Richards said. Gray  confirmed it is as Elodea Canadensis, a common species of aquatic plant in Maine. Its proliferation has some good points. It is sequestering a lot of phosphorus and actually contributing to clearer water this summer.

Webber Pond

A “field” of weeds in the northwestern corner of Webber Pond. Photos courtesy of Frank Richards, president of Webber Pond Association.

Nate Gray

Nate Gray, a biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources holds a handful of the Elodea Canadensis, better known as American Waterweed or Pondweed. Photos courtesy of Frank Richards, president of Webber Pond Association.

Are there golden eagles on Webber Pond? Some say “yes”

by Roland D. Hallee

I had a differet subject in mind for my column this week, but circumstances over the weekend have changed my mind and peaked my interest. I also received an education.

Sitting with friends around a camp fire on Friday night, one of the neighbors said, that while kayaking that afternoon, she had seen a Golden eagle. I immediately chimed in that they were an endangered species, and were not known to exist in Maine (according to something I had read years ago).

The following day, while taking a boat ride around Webber Pond with some dear friends who are year-round residents on the pond, he asked if we had seen the Golden eagles. That did it.

Was it possible for Golden eagles to exist on Webber Pond. My friend went on to say he had witnessed them on the ice during the winter, actually devouring some fish that had been left on the ice by fishermen.

golden eagles

In this presentation at the Gidwitz Field Museum, Hall of Birds, in Chicago, Illinois, a golden eagle, left, and bald eagle are appropriately displayed.

To prove his point, he steered the party boat toward the west shore of Webber Pond, where, high in the top of a tree, was this large nest, occupied by some rather large birds. We were not able to discern what was occupying the nest from that distance. Bald eagles were circling in the area. I was still not sold.

Well, research taught me that Golden eagles, one of the largest and fastest of raptors in North America, do exist in Maine, although a rarity, mainly to the west and north of Moosehead Lake. So, now are they moving east in our state?

Golden eagles, Equila chrysaetos, can be found throughout the northern hemisphere. A large population exists in the western Rockies and north into Alaska. In the east, a small breeding population occurs in Maine, Labrador and Québec Province, although its range is greatly reduced  from its former extent down the Appalachians to North Carolina.

According to Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, Golden eagle populations appear to have been stable between 1966 and 2014.  Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population to be 300,000, with 35 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S.

Golden eagles are listed as an endangered species in Maine. The decline in their numbers is directly attributed to environmental contaminants, especially DDT, that caused reproductive impairment during the post World War II era. Although these contaminants are now banned, they still persist in the birds’ bodies. Maine’s golden eagles depend heavily on wading birds as prey, which had high levels of contaminants. Five dead golden eagles have been found since 1985. Golden eagle eggs recovered from a nest in 1996 showed high levels of DDE, a variant of DDT.

Golden eagle populations have declined in the east throughout the 20th century, and were extirpated 20-40 years ago in the eastern states. Only 10 nesting territories have been documented with certainty, but at least 18 more locations are suspected. Six successful nesting attempts were recorded at three Maine eyries  [nests of birds of prey] from 1955-1967. Goldens disappeared from Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties during the 1980s.  The last known nesting pair in Maine existed until 1999, then disappeared completely.  That pair was heavily contaminanted and had not produced young since 1986.

Today, Golden eagles can fall prey to collisions with automobiles, wind turbines, and other structures or from electrocution at power poles. Urbanization, agricultural development and changes in wildfire regimes have compromised nesting and hunting grounds.

There have been sporadic sightings of Golden eagles in recent years, and it is hoped that individual eagles from Canada may be moving into previously unoccupied eyries.  Counts at hawk watch sites seem to indicate the Eastern population is slowly recovering.

Adults may live 15 – 20 years in the wild, although they have been known to live 46 years in captivity. The oldest recorded Golden eagle in the wild was at least 31 years, 8 months old when it was found in Utah in 2012.

Once I was almost convinced the two friends thought they had seen golden eagles, I asked if they had misidentified immature bald eagles, which resemble each other. Both told me the birds they saw were much larger than bald eagles. My skepticism continues.  Golden eagle wingspans can extend up to six feet, with a 40-inch body, and can weigh 8 – 13 pounds. Bald eagles have a body length of up to 40 inches, with wingspans of 6 – 7.5 feet, and a body weight of between 6.5 – 14 pounds. Many sources say the bald eagle has sometimes been considered the largest true raptor in North America, outsizing the Golden eagle.

Golden eagles are uniformly brown throughout their lives. They get their name from amber or golden highlights on the head and neck. Golden eagles have shorter hawk-like bills, their lower legs are feathered to the ankles, and they soar with slightly uplifted wings, whereas a bald eagle flies with its wings stretched straight out so you can see their “fingers.” Golden eagles remain with the same mate for life. The female is larger than the male, otherwise, they look identical.

Sightseers and photographers should stay away from the nest during the nesting season, which is February through August. Like bald eagles, golden eagles are disturbed by human activities near the nests. Humans should avoid the nests during the nesting period.

Wintering areas for Maine golden eagles can stretch to the Maritime Provinces, depending on the availability of food. Their normal diet consists of ground squirrels, marmots, ptarmigan and seabirds.

My goal, at this point, is to photograph these “Golden eagles” before the summer ends, to correctly identify them as such. From a distance, of course.

Be careful what you wish for.

The other night, while watching a Red Sox game, the Sox were down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out, Xander Bogaerts singled, bringing up David Ortiz. I said, “Come on, Ortiz, end it right here!” He did, grounding into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game. I meant for him to hit a two-run homer for the walk-off win. Sox lost. Be careful what you wish for.