China Lake Association; Protecting the Lake and Land Owners: Nonprofit Spotlight

Some of the attendees at the Invasive Plant 101 workshop, held in China on August 24, were, from left to right, Sonny Pierce, of Rangeley Lake Heritage Trust, Peter Caldwell and Marie Michaud, China Lake Association, and Spencer Harriman, of Lake Stewards of Maine. (contributed photo)

by Steve Ball

“The quality of China Lake has improved noticeably over the past five years. I can remember algae so thick on the surface that when I ran my boat I would leave a wake of algae behind me.”

Larry Sikora, China Lake property owner

Imagine the impact a polluted lake would have on the town of China and its residents. There was a day, in the late 1980s, when there was justifiable concern with the cleanliness of the lake. Many China residents likely remember the algae blooms resulting in low fish counts, few lake birds, limited lakeside wildlife, and sparse or distorted shore plant life. All these are indications that the health of the lake is failing.

The results of this condition can be devastating for a community like China and its surrounding towns that rely so heavily on its lake for its drinking water and attracting tourism and recreation, and, thus, growing economic activity.

In mid-1990s the University of Maine conducted an extended study of the connection between the health of Maine’s lakes, as measured in nutrient and cleanliness levels, and local economic growth. In the 1996 study, “Water Quality Affects Property Prices: A Case Study of Selected Maine Lakes,” the authors found what many lake residents have known for years, there is direct link between healthy waters and good economic viability. Everything from the direct economic impact resulting from lake usage, to the price of lakeside homes and camps and the town’s tax revenue generated from waterfront properties is either positively or negatively impacted by the cleanliness of the local lake. China Lake was one of the 34 lakes in Maine included in the study.

The other reality of addressing the health of lake waters is that remediating, or cleaning up a problem like algae bloom, or an overheated lake is far more expensive than preventing the problem.

It is for these reasons that the China Lake Association was formed in 1987. Their mission is simple: Through education, fund raising and other proper activities, to guard the waters of China Lake against pollution, to preserve the environmental health of the China Lake watershed and to protect and enhance the beauty of the Lake and its adjacent area.

The CLA has made a difference in this community through active and persistent action to help keep China Lake the clean, fresh lake that people in this community and our visitors have grown to expect. But that work needs people committed to rolling up their sleeves and doing everything from replanting lakeside vegetation to help minimize the effects of erosion and runoff, to managing the Boat Inspection Program, to studying the ways the lake is polluted and finding solutions, to educating youth and adults about the importance of having a clean and healthy lake.

Several people since the organization’s founding have helped to make this organization effective. Scott Pierz, the current president of the CLA is not only an avid champion for China Lake, he has become a student of what it takes to steward a healthy lake in Maine. Pierz, the former Codes Enforcement Officer for China, knows the area well and appreciates the impact China Lake has on nearly every household in the community.

A revegetation project China Lake Association supports working with fifth grade students in both Vassalboro and China schools. This project is organized by Matt Streeter from the Alewife Restoration Project. Nate Gray, from the Department of Marine Resources, is always present and Anita Smith, of China, presents the information on native plants. (contributed photo)

Of all the things CLA is involved in, the education aspect is one that seems to appeal to Pierz’s talents. He believes that if we can educate our middle schoolers about the value of keeping a clean and healthy lake our future is bright. The CLA has taught classes on loons, how a lake becomes polluted, and they’ve hosted a poster contest. In Pierz’s mind, “We are building a youth of informed citizens” who will know what it means to have a clean lake and, more specifically, what it means to the town of China to have a clean lake.

In addition to education and the Boat Inspection Program, the CLA has been actively involved in the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative, ARI. Knowing the value of a natural alewife population on cleansing fresh waters, the CLA has been a part of a program to restore passage for 950,000 alewives migrating from the Sebasticook River to China Lake. With the goal to remove obsolete dams that had obstructed the passage of alewives and construct fishways where necessary, the ARI has successfully restored an alewife population to China Lake. The results to the lake’s waters have been remarkable; noticeably cleaner water, higher bird counts and more lake plant life. The fish count is harder to determine, but some attest the fishing has been better.

Another undertaking started by the CLA has been the Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program. This was the brainchild of Pierz who saw that runoff from some gravel roads surrounding the lake was bringing damaging pollutants into the water. The project involves getting an engineering plan and then bringing together the manpower to assist with either diverting the runoff, or planting buffer plants, or re-grading of the roads; whatever it takes to prevent damaging runoff from entering the lake.

In addition, the CLA assists the state of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection in running the Lake Smart Program for China Lake property owners. Lake Smart, an education and reward program, provides assistance to lakefront homeowners to better manage landscapes in ways that protect water quality. Through the program property owners can receive a technical inspection with a proposed improvement plan by a DEP certified Soil and Water Conservation Engineer that can ultimately be enacted through CLA help and volunteer labor.

All of these programs and initiatives have two goals in mind; improve the quality of China Lake’s water and build a sustainable system to assure its quality in years to come. It is this relentless commitment to finding and carrying out ways to keep China Lake clean and healthy that has come to define the China Lake Association. The community may not see everything they do, and some residents may not remember what it was like when the lake was suffering from damaging algae blooms, but everyone should appreciate there is a nonprofit working in the community for the benefit of every citizen.

The Town Line will continue with a series on local nonprofit groups and their work in their respective communities. To include your group, contact The Town Line at townline@townline.org.

 
 

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