China Lake water quality remains consistent

Photo courtesy of Lakes of Maine

by  Robbie Bickford,
Water Quality Manager, Kennebec Water District

In the winter of 1902-1903, an epidemic of typhoid fever in the Waterville area resulted in an estimated 371 cases of typhoid with 40 deaths. Public health experts of the time determined the cause of the typhoid fever to be the drinking water from the Messalonskee Stream being distributed by the local water company.

Disposal of raw sewerage from Oakland and parts of Waterville was continually contaminating the Messalonskee Stream with human waste. To help protect public health the Kennebec Water District (KWD) was formed in 1899 and took ownership of the local water company’s assets in 1904. Prior to taking ownership of the system assets, KWD Trustees determined that the use of Messalonskee Stream had to end. As noted in the 1906 Annual Report of the Trustees, the Trustees determined “that we ought to take no chances with the sewerage of Oakland.”

After evaluating options, China Lake was determined to be the best source of supply for KWD. A pipeline was constructed, and water began to flow from China Lake to Waterville in May 1905. Sense then KWD has been committed to protecting the water quality of China Lake.

To this day, China Lake continues to be KWD’s sole source of supply providing drinking water for over 22,000 people in five communities. KWD has worked diligently throughout the years to protect and improve the water quality in China Lake by supporting and implementing many different initiatives. The two main areas of focus on over the past year have been (1) land management of the approximately 344 acres owned by KWD surrounding the West Basin and (2) increasing the already extensive water quality sampling KWD regularly conducts.

To help ensure land owned by KWD is managed to promote the highest possible water quality, KWD contracted with Comprehensive Land Technologies, Inc. (CLT) in 2019 to develop a Forest Management Plan that assessed the overall health of the forest and provided forest management recommendations. As part of this management plan, a harvesting plan for the South Peninsula was developed in 2021 focusing on improving overall forest health by promoting an uneven-aged, mixed species forest. Due to some unexpected delays and an early Spring, the selective harvest of the South Peninsula was postponed until Winter 2022-2023. Another recommendation completed in 2022 from the forest management plan was the planting of over 6,000 seedlings within six acres of fields owned by KWD. These fields were located directly adjacent to China Lake on the North Peninsula and once established, this expanded forested buffer will help limit erosion and trap nutrients and contaminants in runoff before they reach the water.

Throughout the summers of 2021 and 2022, KWD sampled three locations (one in each Basin) every two weeks for many water quality parameters such as transparency, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, phosphorus, and algae within the water column. The results from this testing, compared to the past 10 years, indicate the water quality in China Lake remains consistent. While the data illustrates that water quality is not declining, it is also not improving appreciably. Therefore, there is a need for continued collaborative work by the users of this important resource.

KWD’s staff and Trustees remain committed to preserving and enhancing the water quality of China Lake. KWD’s work over the past year is vital to this ongoing effort. More information about KWD and its commitment to China Lake can be found at Specific questions can be emailed to Robbie Bickford, KWD’s Water Quality Manager at


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