Tag Archive for: China Lake Association

China Lake Assn. members hear about water quality

by Jonathan Strieff

Nearly 80 community members gathered in the China Primary School gymnasium on July 29 for the annual China Lakes Association meeting. After a welcome and networking breakfast catered by Sunrise Bagels, CLA president, Stephen Greene, introduced three guest speakers from the Department of Environmental Protection, Ecological Instincts, and the Kennebec Water District to speak to the current health of China Lake.

The overall message was that, while water quality has greatly improved in recent years, China Lake remains an “impaired” body of water, supporting nuisance algae blooms, and with the deepest parts of the lake continually reaching an anoxic (oxygen deprived) state inhospitable to aquatic life. “There’s lots of work,” Greene said in his opening remarks, “all of you can do to make a difference, ensuring the sustainability of the watershed for the next generation, and spreading the serious message about the improvements needed to protect our very very beautiful lake.”

The keynote address was delivered by Wendy Garland, director of Maine DEP. She began her presentation by referring to the infamous status of “China Lake Syndrome,” a broad term for persistent nuisance algae blooms resulting from high levels of phosphorus entering the lake due to rapid shoreline development. The internal cycling of phosphorus in the watershed from has led to the sharp decline in both water clarity and the cold water fishery. The internal phosphorus load, having accumulated in the lakebed sediment from decades of runoff and erosion, is primarily responsible for the algae blooms and is being targeted for inactivation in the 2022-2031 China Lake Watershed-Based Management Plan. The effectiveness of the plan depends on reducing the external phosphorus load entering the lake annually through nonpoint source pollution.

According to the WBMP, internal phosphorus inactivation can be achieved using alum, or non dissolved aluminum, to bind the elements in the surface sediments and make them less susceptible to release. Garland identified grant funding for the project available from section 319 of the Clean Water Act and LD 164, An Act to Fund Lake Restoration and Protection.” Unfortunately, before its passage, LD 164 was scaled back from $2.5 million to $200,000.

“No one at DEP is currently allowed to speak in public without mentioning PFAS,” Garland joked towards the end of her presentation.

Levels of PFAS, a class of “forever chemicals” known to cause serious health problems, were found to be high enough in tissue samples from small mouth bass, large mouth bass, and perch caught in China Lake for DEP to revise its guidelines, from consuming no more than two meals of caught fish per month down to one per month.

In closing, Garland offered an inspirational message to those present, to help redefine China Lake Syndrome as a positive example of how collaborative efforts from dedicated stakeholders can restore water quality to previously impaired lakes and streams.

Next, Jen Jesperson, of Ecological Instincts, an environmental consulting firm responsible for the WBMP presented a an update from the first year of the plan’s implementation. Jesperson articulated that the goal of ending algae blooms was still a long way off, but not impossible. Water clarity in 80 percent of the lake stands at less than two meters deep. More than 60 percent of the lake is considered anoxic, with dissolved oxygen levels at or near zero parts per million.

The goals of the WBMP are to reduce phosphorus levels from 17 parts per billion to 13 ppb in the west basin and 10 ppb in the east basin by 2031. The alum treatment scheduled for 2026 will do a lot to reach these goals but much still depends on controlling the external phosphorus load entering the watershed.

The final guest speaker was Robert Bickford, the water quality manager of the Kennebec Water District. Bickford reiterated many of the earlier points about the current health of the China Lake watershed and offered detailed technical information about the ongoing water quality monitoring performed by KWD.

The gathering also heard from CLA director, Bill Powell about the annual loon count, elected new officers and directors, and received the financial report from CLA treasurer Natasha Littlefield.

Those interested in learning more about the WBMP or about proactive measures to help mitigate erosion and runoff pollution in the lake can visit www.chinalakeassociation.org or www.lakes.me.

Lake Life Today: While planning for the future #4

RELAX: Michael Bilinsky, of China Village, photographed this loon as it sits in the lake, relaxing.

Submitted by Elaine Philbrook

Lake Life Today is a series of articles that are hoped will inspire you to see how, by taking just a few steps, you can make a difference and help preserve the quality of water in our lakes for future generations.

These articles have been collected and organized by LakeSmart Director Elaine Philbrook, a member of China Region Lake Alliance (aka “the Alliance”) serving China Lake, Webber Pond, Three Mile Pond, and Three-Cornered Pond. The Alliance would like to thank our partners at Maine Lakes and Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) for information to support this article.


Our last articles included information about phosphorus, its sources and how it impacts our lakes whether it is from shoreline properties or sources found in our watersheds. The next several articles will be sharing actions you can take to “slow the flow” of water on your property to keep nonpoint source pollution (NPS) from entering our lakes. The first action is creating a “beneficial buffer” along the water’s edge. This area is the last but most valuable line of defense we can use to keep NPS and other pollutants such as phosphorous from entering our lakes.

A SHORELINE BUFFER ideally starts at the water’s edge and extends 75 feet or more into the upland area of your property. The best shoreline buffers are deep, wide, and continuous (with only a narrow path or other small break for access to the water). These buffers have many layers of vegetation, including tall trees (canopy), shorter trees (midstory), shrubs, perennials, and groundcover. A layer of duff (twigs, fallen leaves, and pine needles) also accumulates on the ground in a buffer.

Vegetation in a buffer intercepts raindrops so less rain impacts the ground. The uneven duff layer absorbs rain, and loose soils filters out pollutants. Tree roots help anchor soil in place and absorb water and nutrients. Buffers act like a sponge, soaking up rainfall, absorbing nutrients and runoff, and reducing the flow of stormwater into the lake.

But that is not all buffers do.

Buffers also provide habitat for insects, birds, small mammals, and believe it or not, sometimes even fish! Tree branches overhanging the lake provide cover for fish that need safe and cool places to protect themselves. Dropped leaves provide food for bugs and dropped limbs provide habitat structure for mammals. Ideally, shoreline buffers are composed of native vegetation, which is easier to maintain and better for wildlife.

It can be tempting to “limb up” trees in the buffer to increase lake views but most local ordinances allow only trimming the lower 1/3 of branches, and dead limbs can be removed. Remember, each branch left on the tree enhances the integrity of the buffer and provides more habitat value for wildlife. Let the trees frame your view!

Buffers are the last line of defense for a lake against NPS pollution and stormwater runoff coming from your property! You can make your buffer bigger and better by adding plants to fill in thin spots, even a few at a time. In fact, you can plant up to 24 plants along the shore each year without a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Let leaf litter accumulate in the buffe, and limit the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides on your property. Note that pesticides and fertilizers are not allowed within 25’ of shore. With a healthy buffer, you are helping to ensure your view is of a clean, healthy, and blue lake!

One final point: buffers are not a one size fits all. The information shared above is for an ideal buffer. This information comes from The Lake Book A handbook for Lake Protection from MaineLakes. You can visit their site for more information about caring for our lakes in Maine at: https://www.lakes.me/

If you have any questions about what you can do to ensure the integrity of your valued lake or if you would like a free LakeSmart evaluation you can reach Elaine Philbrook by email at chinalakesmart@gmail.com and follow-up to read the next Townline newspaper.

Live lightly on the land for the sake of the lake (LakeSmart).

Lake Life Today: While planning for the future, Part 2

submitted by Elaine Philbrick

Lake Life Today is a series of articles that are hoped will inspire you to see how, by taking just a few steps, you can make a difference and help preserve the quality of water in our lakes for future generations.

These articles have been collected and organized by LakeSmart Director Elaine Philbrook, a member of China Region Lake Alliance (aka “the Alliance”) serving China Lake, Webber Pond, Three Mile Pond, and Three-Cornered Pond. The Alliance would like to thank our partners at Maine Lakes and Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) for information to support this article.



Phosphorus is a naturally occurring nutrient that creates lake algae. A rapid increase or accumulation of too much phosphorus can cause a lake to be out of balance, creating massive algae blooms that turn lake water green from the algae’s pigments, smells terrible, degrades wildlife habitat, and can potentially harm human and pet health.

Phosphorus comes from lots of sources – pet waste, fertilizers, household cleaners, motor oil – none of which should ever find their way into a lake. But the biggest source of phosphorus is soil and sediment that is washed into a lake after a severe rain event. We know, due to climate change, that the rain events we are now experiencing are more intense. Severe storms cause phosphorous loading during the first hour of such events. This is called the “first flush.” Watch out for the “brownish” stormwater because it is laden with the nutrients, especially phosphorus.

Signs of erosion on your property show you that phosphorus in stormwater can take a direct path to your lake. Look around for stormwater channeling, or even more intense “gullying” left behind after a big storm, especially near buildings and parking areas where stormwater “sheet flows” off impervious surfaces and cascades its way to the waterbody.

Added together, even small sources of pollutants – a little stormwater runoff, a little pet waste on the lawn, a minor application of fertilizer – can all add up to create a much bigger problem for your lake. A little pollution from you, your neighbor and others around the lake, year after year, can put your lake at huge risk!

What can you do? For a more complete list of those things you can do to help promote and protect your lake’s water quality, see information on Lake Friendly Yard Maintenance at Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation (Watershed Management Division).

If you have any questions about what you can do to ensure the integrity of your valued lake or if you would like a free LakeSmart evaluation you can reach Elaine Philbrook by email at chinalakesmart@gmail.com and follow-up to read the next issue of The Town Line newspaper.

Lake Life Today: While planning for the future

FALL SCENE: Susan Thiem, of Texas, a summer resident on China Lake, took this photo prior to her departure this past fall.

submitted by Elaine Philbrick

Lake Life Today is a series of articles that we hope will inspire you to see how, by taking just a few steps, you can make a difference and help preserve the quality of water in our lakes for future generations.

These articles have been collected and organized by LakeSmart Director Elaine Philbrook, a member of China Region Lakes Alliance (aka “the Alliance”) serving China Lake, Webber Pond, Three Mile Pond, and Three-Cornered Pond. The Alliance would like to thank our partners at Maine Lakes and Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) for information to support this article.

  • Be LakeSmart
  • Lakes Environmental Association
  • LakeSmart Tip: Spring Cleaning

As you open your camp this spring, consider the following suggestions for protecting your lake.

Cleaning Up Yard Debris

Pine needles, leaves, and other undisturbed vegetative material (small, downed branches and twigs) can help supplement your property’s “duff layer” at the shoreline. This is a layer of decaying leaf and undisturbed vegetative material that creates a buffer-like area to promote your landscape’s ability to infiltrate stormwater. Promoting vegetation at the shoreline’s edge will also protect the riparian zone for wildlife habitat on your shorefront property. It is advisable to retain as much of this natural duff layer as possible while still being able to enjoy your property.

  • Pine needles and leaves should not be raked up except to provide a safety barrier around your fire pit or to maintain your (hopefully minimal) lawn. Regarding lawns generally: Please avoid importing “fancy aesthetics” to your lakeside, such as miniature or dwarf fruit trees. Instead go with more natural shoreline plants that would help stabilize your buffer. It is Maine’s lakeside natural environment that we all love. Go to Shoreline Landscaping for Lake Protection, Maine Department of Environmental Protection for more info.
  • Downed branches and other debris should only be removed in areas where you recreate or walk.
  • Leaving the natural duff layer is a critical part of the forest ecosystem and should be left intact outside of footpaths.
  • Also, try to avoid using commercial fertilizers that contain concentrations of phosphorous (i.e., a nutrient that contributes to algae blooms in our lakes).

Activating Your Septic Tank

Septic tanks activate after the winter naturally. No additives are needed to get your septic tank’s bacterial process started in the spring. Rid-X and similar bacterial enzyme additives interfere with natural tank bacterial action, often causing accelerated breakdown of solid and turning sludge into a slurry which can then enter and plug up your leach field. Do not waste your money on products that don’t work and can harm your septic system!

Maintaining Water Diverters

Existing open top “box” culverts and/or so-called “rubber razors blades” installed along your camp road need periodic inspection and cleaning. Runoff into these diverters carries silt which builds up and can reduce or eliminate the diverter’s capacity to function. In open top culverts, remove the silt which settles. Similarly, clean up the silt which builds along the uphill edge of any rubber razor blades, and dredge the outlet edge of all diverters to remove the silt that has built up there.

At the Water’s Edge

  • Inspect your dock entrance to ensure it is not allowing runoff into the lake.
  • Assess whether there is any undercutting of the lake bank from waves crashing into your shoreline.

If you have any questions about what you can do to ensure the integrity of your valued lake or if you would like a free LakeSmart evaluation you can reach Elaine Philbrook by email at chinalakesmart@gmail.com and follow-up to read the next Townline newspaper.

Live lightly on the land for the sake of the lake (LakeSmart).

CLA annual meeting celebrates 50 years of Clean Water Act

The China Lake Association leadership team, from left to right, Secretary David Preston, Vice President Eric Lind, and President Stephen Greene. (photo by Jeanne Marquis)

by Jeanne Marquis

The China Lake Association (CLA) annual meeting was held Saturday morning on July, 30, 2022, in the China Middle School, on Lakeview Drive, in China, Maine. The meeting was both a celebration of the alewives return to China Lake and a tribute to the 50-year anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Senator Susan Collins, Senator Angus King and Congress­woman Chellie Pingree sent video statements to the annual meeting congratulating the association’s positive impact on China Lake and supporting the work ahead to maintain the water quality. Senator Collins expressed that maintaining fresh water lakes such as China Lake is an important investment in our future. Senator King mentioned the connection the Muskie family personally had with China Lake owning a camp on its shore.

Pingree stated, “It was our fellow Mainer, Senator Ed Muskie, who wrote the clean water act half a century ago. Since then, it has been directly responsible for restoring and maintaining waters across the nation including right here in China Lake. Senator Muskie would be proud to see how much progress all of you at the China Lake Association have made to restore and protect the lake’s water to continue implementing the provisions of the Clean Water Act.”

The annual water quality report for China Lake was presented by Robbie Bickford, Water Quality Manager of Kennebec Water District (KWD). According to Bickford, “The results of the testing indicate China Lake is maintaining a steady state with a slight improvement in water quality over the past 10 years.” The full report can be found in the KWD newsletter which can be accessed here on ChinaLake­Associa­tion.org.

Bickford also provided updates on two projects Ken­nebec Water District accomplished this past year and are ongoing to protect water quality. KWD, with help from a grant from Project Canopy, reforested six acres on land KWD purchased in the early 1900s. Working with residents down in that area, KWD planted about 6,000 little seedlings with a mixture of black spruce, red spruce and red pine. In the fall of 2021, KWD developed a harvest plan in conjunction with a forest management plan. The goal is to achieve a mixed age, multi-species stand on all KWD land to maintain sustainable erosion control. KWD postponed last winter’s harvest until the winter of 2023 due to the warm conditions. Bickford explained that ideally the ground should be frozen during the harvest to prevent as much soil disruption as possible.

Bob O’Connor

The annual loon count was presented by Bob O’Connor, CLA board member. O’ Connor mentioned he has been counting loons on China Lake for 33 years, a third of a century. He was pleased to announce the count is up from 25 to 34. O’Connor announced another loon project in the works to help increase the loon population.

Karen McNeil, an undergraduate studying wildlife ecology and an intern for Maine Lakes, briefly presented information about the Loon Restoration Project. This project is intended to increase the loon productivity, while decreasing the mortality through establishing nesting rafts in ideal locations. Bill Powell, CLA board member is leading this initiative for the CLA and plans to launch an artificial nesting raft next year on China Lake. They are looking for more volunteers to build and monitor the raft for signs of nesting and chicks. Contact the CLA for more information about how to get involved.

Landis Hudson, executive director of Maine Rivers, made an upbeat presentation about the completion of the alewives restoration to China Lake and what this means to the regional ecology. This nearly ten-years-long project was headed up by the nonprofit organization Maine Rivers, in collaboration with the towns of China and Vassalboro, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Kennebec Water District, the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, and the China Region Lakes Alliance. The China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative hopes to reclaim the balance of wildlife in the water, air and land that existed prior to the dams construction centuries ago by restoring alewife passage. For the first time since 1783, alewives are making the trip from the ocean through the Kennebec River to China Lake to spawn. Nate Gray, a scientist with Maine Department of Marine Resources, manufactured a fish counter to get initial counts. The numbers of alewives making it through the fishways at the Box Mill Dam reached expectations.

Eric Lind, vice president of CLA, spoke about the 2022-2031 China Lake Watershed-Based Management Plan (WBMP). The plan outlines management strategies and a 10-year schedule of steps to increase efforts to reduce the external phosphorus load by addressing existing nonpoint source (NPS) pollution throughout the watershed and limit new sources of phosphorus from future development and climate change. The plan significantly reduces the internal phosphorus load through inactivation of phosphorus in lake bottom sediments, and monitors and assesses improvements in China Lake’s water quality over time.

The 2022 launch of the WBMP is the culmination of a two-year comprehensive watershed survey, performed with help from CLA volunteers in partnership with Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and technical leaders. The survey identified sources of pollution, which included an assessment of gravel roads and developed properties in the watershed. The information from the survey was used in China Lake’s ten-year watershed management plan; the plan will help the CLA qualify for federal funding grants under the Clean Water Act. The China Lake Watershed-Based Management Plan is available on the CLA website.

Why is a watershed based management plan important? As reported August 5, 2022, in the Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal, North Pond, in Smithfield, in the Belgrade area, is experiencing extreme algae blooms that have diminished the water clarity to only four feet. People are advised by the state Department of Environmental Protect to limit lengthy exposure to the pea soup green water and to have no exposure when water clarity reaches only three feet. There was no watershed management plan in place for North Pond. The North Pond Association has recently received a grant to establish a plan.

The last speaker of the CLA annual meeting was Judy Stone, Colby College professor and LakeSmart Award property owner, discussing forests, buffers and water quality. Stone provided property owners with sound advice on maintaining a canopy of diverse trees and permeable ground foliage to capture and filter stormwater.

The meeting closed with a strong vote of confidence for the re-election of the current leadership team: President Stephen Greene, Vice President Eric Lind, Secretary David Preston. An opening exists for a treasurer to replace retired treasurer Elaine Philbrook. The board of directors includes Robbie Bickford, Wayne Clark, Bruce Fitzgerald, Marie Michaud, Bob O’Connor, and Bill Powell, all of whom serve with the officers as volunteers managing the business and conducting the affairs of CLA.

The China Lake Association stands for “Preserving China Lake for Future Generations Through Environmental Stewardship and Community Action.” CLA officers and directors hold monthly meetings to drive growth and development of the organization. Stephen Greene invites interested people to attend. Contact him at stephencraiggreene@gmail.com to attend board meetings, become more involved, or discuss your thoughts about CLA.

China Lake association president lays out 10-year plan to select board

by Mary Grow

China Lake Association President Stephen Greene is thinking in millions of dollars these days – but not to be spent immediately.

At the Dec. 20 China select board meeting, Greene updated board members on the draft 10-year China Lake Watershed-Based Management Plan, which he expects the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to approve early in 2022 (see The Town Line, Dec. 9, p. 1).

Stephen Greene

The goal is to continue improving water quality in China Lake, for environmental and economic benefits. The plan has six components, Greene said: reducing internal loading, the excess nutrients (especially phosphorus) already in the lake; reducing external loading by controlling run-off; preventing future external loading; informing and educating area residents; raising funds, locally and from other sources; and monitoring progress and results.

Absent specific plans, cost estimates are crude. Greene expects the external work to cost about a million dollars and the internal to add another $1.4 million.

One possibility for internal work is an alum treatment, a process in which aluminum sulfate would be added to the north end of China Lake’s east basin. The alum carries phosphorus in the water to the bottom of the lake and creates a barrier above phosphorus that is already in the bottom sediments.

Alum has been used in other lakes in Maine, including East Pond, in Smithfield, and in other states. Greene said more study, including more bottom sampling, is needed before a decision is made on whether a treatment would help China Lake.

He told selectmen the China Lake Association has turned over its ongoing programs – LakeSmart, Courtesy Board Inspectors, Youth Conservation Corps and Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program – to the China Region Lakes Alliance, so the Lake Association can focus on the management plan. He intends to ask for town funds in the 2022-23 budget.

Greene listed numerous cooperating groups and potential funding sources, from local organizations to state and federal governmental agencies. Asked if he had contacted the Town of Vassalboro, which surrounds part of China Lake’s west basin, he said no, but Vassalboro should be included.

Greene did not ask selectmen to take any action at the Dec. 20 meeting.

Other issues did require action, including voting to:

  • Appoint Trishea Story a full member of the Tax Increment Financing Committee, on which she has been the alternate member.
  • Appoint Stephen Nichols China’s Emergency Preparedness Director, with approval from Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood, who has had the position with Nichols as her deputy.
  • Maintain the present employees’ health plan for another year, with four board members in favor and Blane Casey dissenting (see The Town Line, Dec. 9, p. 3).

Hapgood called board members’ attention to the DEP’s Dec. 15 notice that PFAS testing will be conducted in China, to see if any land is contaminated with the “forever chemicals,” (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).

The letter says DEP staff are working with Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry staff to locate any farmland in China where sludge or septic waste might have been applied. A state law that became effective in October prescribes and describes the investigation.

A copy of the letter is on the Town of China website, china.govoffice.com, under the sub-heading “Public Notices” under the “About” tab.

As part of 2022-23 budget preparations, Hapgood asked whether the current police services are satisfactory. China is now paying $65 an hour to the Kennebec Sheriff’s Office for 10 hours a week extra coverage, in addition to the service provided by KSO and the state police.

Select board members are satisfied. Wayne Chadwick asked whether a contract could be signed, to help with longer-range budgeting.

Deputy Ivano Stefanizzi said coverage is provided 24 hours a day; there is no change-over gap between shifts. He and his colleagues continue to stop many speeders between 4 and 7 a.m., he said.

If select board members decide not to revive the town police department, they are likely to ask voter’ permission to sell the town-owned police vehicle.

Hapgood said no bids had been received on the Harley-Davidson motorcycle the town has taken as part repayment of a loan from the Tax Increment Financing Revolving Loan Fund. She recommends trying again in the spring.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

China Lake Association updates public on 10-year watershed plan

by Eric W. Austin

On Thursday, December 2, the China Lake Association hosted a two-hour Zoom webinar to present the public with their 10-year plan for the China Lake Watershed. The plan represented work over a two-year period by multiple organizations to survey the China Lake watershed and develop a plan for preserving and improving it.

Stephen Greene

Stephen Greene, president of the China Lake Association, served as moderator for the event. Jennifer Jespersen, owner of the environmental consulting company Ecological Instincts, was the keynote speaker, with Amanda Pratt, of Maine DEP, presenting information about the recent watershed survey and moderating the question and answer session afterwards. Dr. Ken Wagner, a consultant from Water Resources Services, who Jespersen described as a “water professional specializing in the management of internal loading in lakes throughout New England”, was also on hand to answer questions from the audience.

China Lake Association president, Stephen Greene, introduced the evening by saying, “What are we trying to accomplish? In a nutshell, to restore water quality in China Lake, to end recurrent nuisance algae blooms. And why is this important? We all know that China Lake is the drinking water supply for 22,000 people. China Lake is the heartbeat of the community in the region. It is an economic engine. It serves as a large part of the tax base. It is home to people and wildlife in our community. It is a center of recreation.”

The previous watershed plan, formulated in 2008, was out of date, Jen Jespersen explained, and in order for local groups that do important restoration work in the watershed to apply and receive grants, the watershed plan must be updated every 10 years.

Jespersen began her presentation by explaining some of the problems China Lake is facing now and historically, along with reviewing some of the characteristics that make the China Lake watershed unique. Consisting of land in and around China Lake, both the east and west basins, 89 percent of the China Lake watershed sits within the borders of China, with nine percent in Vassalboro, two percent in Albion, and a tiny slice, making up only 0.1 percent, in Winslow. In total, the watershed includes about 27 square miles, with most of that surrounding the east basin (20 square miles). The surface area of the lake is about 6.2 square miles total.

The watershed is the area of land surrounding the bodies of water and determined by the sources that drain into the lake. Most of this area is forested (56 percent), with the remaining being wetlands (19 percent), agricultural areas (12 percent), developed land (11 percent) and roads (2 percent).

Water flows from the north end of the east basin, down the length of China Lake and then into the west basin (also known as the Big Lake), and into Outlet Stream which eventually drains into Sebasticook River and from there into the ocean.

Maximum depth of the lake is 92 feet in the west basin, and 56 feet in the east basin. Average depth across the lake is about 25 feet.

Screenshot taken from the China Lake watershed presentation.

Currently, China Lake is on the state’s list of impaired lakes because of the frequency of algae blooms, because China is considered a “high contact” body of water, and because of the high level of phosphorous and low oxygen levels detected in the lake. Part of the goal of the proposed 10-year watershed plan is to address these problems.

One of the problems China Lake suffers from is a lower than average flush rate. This is the rate at which all of the water in the lake is replaced by new water. Jespersen said that while the average for lakes in the state is between 1-1.5 flushes per year, China Lake is much lower at just .65-.72 flushes per year. This means that when pollutants are washed into the lake, it takes longer for the lake to flush them downstream than other comparable lakes.

Jespersen explained that they have arrived at their recommendations through extensive data collection, including Secchi Disc testing for water clarity at multiple stations around the lake, lakebed sediment testing, the collection of water samples to test for total phosphorus and Chlorophyll-a content, and water column readings, which test for dissolved oxygen in the water and also water temperature. This data is then fed into several data models to identify the best approach for management and restoration.

Algae problems in bodies of water like China Lake are directly related to the nutrient load on the lake. This “load” comes in two varieties: external load and internal load. The external load on the lake refers to the sources of nutrients flowing into the lake from external sources, including leaky septic systems, new land development and runoff from agricultural activity like farming and animal husbandry.

Impact overview of China Lake watershed. Screenshot taken from the China Lake watershed presentation.

The internal load is a bit harder to explain. This is the amount of nutrients already trapped in the sediment at the bottom of the lake. Some of this internal load on the lake is natural, coming from the decomposing bodies of animals, fish and plant matter that settle to the bottom of the lake, but much of it is also due to human activity. Today, there are regulations to manage the leakage of nutrients into the lake from things like land development and septic usage. But that wasn’t always the case. In the past, septic systems leaked directly into the lake, and no effort was made to reduce the influence of land development or agricultural activity on the watershed. Over time, these nutrients drained into the lake and built up in the sediment of the lake bottom, just waiting for the right moment to feed an explosion of new algae growth. That moment came in 1983 with the first major algae bloom, and this incident spurred regulatory changes to prevent it from happening again. But by that time we were already fighting a losing game against the internal nutrient load which had been building for years.

Because of this history, the China Lake Association and its partners must focus on the problem from two fronts, the external load, or the amount of new nutrients being fed into the lake, and the internal load, which refers to the nutrients already stored in the lake as a result of years of development and mismanagement of the lake’s watershed.

Algae blooms cause multiple problems. They can threaten the safety of drinking water for those residents that source their drinking water from China Lake. Blooms also damage the recreational and aesthetic value of the lake, and can negatively impact shoreline property values. Additionally, certain types of algae can be toxic to people and pets who come into contact with them.

The team’s research has suggested that the greatest impact on the west basin (the Big Lake) comes from sources in the east basin, and so dealing with the east basin’s internal load will result in the most improvement across both bodies of water. They have also identified the largest contributors of nutrients into the lake as a way to help formulate a management plan. For example, land used for agriculture makes up only 12 percent of the area of the watershed, but it contributes 38 percent of the nutrients feeding into the lake.

The goal of the proposed plan is to reduce the phosphorous in the east basin by 656 kg/year, a reduction of 7.5 parts per billion (ppb), and to reduce the phosphorous in the west basin by 229 kg/year, a reduction of 2.1 ppb. Currently, the total phosphorous in the lake, according to the ten-year average, stands at 17 parts per billion (ppb). This plan would aim to reduce that to 10 ppb, a significant reduction, which should, based on the data models the team is using, lower the probability of major algae blooms in the lake from 28 percent to 2 percent over the next ten years.

Screenshot taken from the China Lake watershed presentation.

Most of the questions asked by audience members after the presentations centered on the proposed alum treatment to address the lake’s internal nutrient load. This treatment involves adding aluminum sulfate to the lake which prevents the phosphorus in the sediment from being released as nutrients for potential algae blooms. Jespersen says that such a treatment could reduce the phosphorus in the east basin by as much as 90 percent, with an estimated cost of $1,445,000. She emphasizes that more analysis of lake sediment needs to be done to determine correct dosage for the alum treatment, which will also influence total expenses.

Ken Wagner, a consultant with Water Resources Services, addressed concerns about the treatment. While nothing is without risk, he said that aluminum is the second most common metal contained in the earth’s crust (after iron), and is commonly used as a treatment for drinking water. In fact, the companies that provide lake treatments are primarily involved in the treatment of drinking water.

Robbie Bickford, an employee with the Kennebec Water District, jumped on the call to confirm that aluminum is used as part of the KWD water treatment process.

Other proposals, such as oxidizing the lake to raise the dissolved oxygen level, or dredging the lake bottom to remove nutrient-rich sediment, were suggested by audience members. Dr. Wagner said that while such ideas have merit to achieve greater water clarity, both suggestions were discarded because of the enormous costs involved when compared to the expected improvements. An alum treatment is more cost effective, safe, and expected to provide benefits for 20-30 years into the future.

A question was asked about how the recent return of alewives to China Lake might impact water clarity. Dr. Wagner said he doesn’t think there will be a substantial impact either way.

Much more detail and additional information was included in the presentation than could be fit into this article. A recording of the presentation should be available on the China Lake Association website by the time this article is published.

(View the full presentation below or click this link to watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1RCFlW0sFw)

LakeSmart presentation from state director slated

Image Credit: chinalakeassociation.org

The China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA) will sponsor a presentation by State LakeSmart Director Mary Wicklund on Maine’s LakeSmart Program, designed to help improve the health of Maine’s lake resources.

The meeting will be held Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 6 p.m. (EST) at the portable classroom at the China Town Office Complex, and by Zoom.

All interested parties are invited to attend. For more information about LakeSmart, or to obtain the Zoom link, please contact (207) 200-8361.

Interviews with China Lake Association leadership; Goal is to educate, re-engage membership

New China Lake Association president Stephen Greene, left, and newly-appointed executive director of the China Region Lakes Alliance, Scott Pierz, during a recent interview. (photo by Jeanne Marquis)

by Jeanne Marquis

The China Lake Association (CLA) elected a new president, Stephen Greene, which established Scott Pierz as the president emeritus for his seven-year service. Scott Pierz will remain active with the CLA, aid in the leadership transition while his passion for lake management will be shared to a greater area as the Executive Director of the China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA).

In an in-depth interview, we discovered what this shift will mean in terms of strengthening the stewardship of our natural local water resources, their visions for the future and the differences in their leadership styles.

What in their backgrounds has prepared them for these roles?

Scott Pierz grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with multiple degrees in philosophy, psychology and teaching. After teaching early in his career, he took a job with the State of Maine as one of the first program monitors of fuel assistance in the late seventies and eighties. In the mid-’80s, Pierz was the City of Gardiner’s codes enforcement officer and later that decade became Oakland’s first codes enforcement officer. After leaving that position, he became a planner with what is now the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments (KVCOG). In this position, Pierz wrote comprehensive plans and grants. One of these grants, a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the Town of Norridgewock gave him a job as the CDBG Director of this multi-phase project. In 1995, Pierz became the codes enforcement officer of China, serving for 19 years, where he saw first hand the direct connection between building codes and lake quality.

Pierz explained this connection, “Essentially, the knowledge I gained through my codes enforcement career with various communities, along with planning and grant writing experience, have formed the foundation of my education about municipal land use and lake ecology.”

Stephen Greene’s career has also extensively prepared him for the role as CLA president. Greene is a 1973 graduate of the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). Prior to continuing on to law school, he worked industrial construction jobs in Portland, Maine. In 1979, he graduated from the New York Law School and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar. For the next four years, Greene served as an assistant prosecutor for the Hudson County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office and tried over 20 jury criminal cases during his tenure.

Greene was an associate attorney with Ravin, Sarasohn, Cook, Baum­garten & Fisch , Roseland, New Jersey, during 1983 to 1990 and an associate attorney with Schwartz, Tobia & Stanziale, Montclair, New Jersey, from 1990 to 1993. At these firms, he conducted civil business litigation, including some bench trials and appellate work.

After 1993 until his 2018 retirement, Greene served as Vice President and General Counsel with G&W Laboratories, Inc., South Plainfield, New Jersey, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm.There he was responsible for all legal matters involving the company, such as FDA, mergers and acquisitions, corporate compliance, and litigation. During his tenure at G&W, he volunteered for and performed pro bono legal work for non-profit organizations under the auspices of the Pro Bono Partnership.

Green mentioned two lessons he learned in his career that he will apply in his new role as CLA president. The first is to always rely on the facts to determine a sound decision. The second lesson is to find the common ground between people’s positions.
How did Pierz and Greene develop their connections to China Lake?

Pierz has lived on China Lake since 1981. Through his 40 years of watching sunsets over the lake and hearing the calls of the loons, he feels a deep connection to the lake. He saw through his work how the lake is the heartbeat of the surrounding area and what happens within the 26 square mile watershed area surrounding the lake impacts the water quality.

Greene also has a long relationship with China Lake. He first visited the lake with his wife, Margo Rancourt Greene, who he met at the University of Maine at Orono as students. China Lake had been an integral part of her family’s life and that continued as Stephen and Margo Greene raised their own children. In 2010, the Greene’s converted their camp into a year-round residence to get more enjoyment from the lake and, now in retirement, spend the majority of the year there.

Greene explains how his passion for the lake turned into concern, “My wife and I remember very well the purity of the China Lake in the 1970s, as well as the heartbreaking changes over the next two decades. We couldn’t abandon China Lake with our deep roots here, and decided we would do something to make a difference. We joined CLA many years ago and got involved. Margo with LakeSmart and me now with the CLA board and presidency. I have been absorbing information from friends in the community, scouring regional news sources and local journalism, including The Town Line, as well as listening to non-profit groups with similar missions as the China Lake Association.”

What does Scott Pierz’s move to the China Region Lakes Alliance as their Executive Director mean to China Lake?

Pierz told us, “ My father instilled in me a nature to participate and give time, to dedicate time, to my community and that’s a community with a capital “C.” That still drives me. I’ve got more to give. There’s more to do. So that’s why I’m making the move to the China Region Lakes Alliance to continue the core programs that have been offered not only to China, but to expand them within the region, and that’s my goal.”

The CLA and CRLA will continue their strong relationship. As the executive director, Pierz will expand the core programs to serve the regional lakes – Webber Pond and Three Mile Pond – that connect with China Lake. These programs are LakeSmart, Courtesy Boat Inspection Program (CBI), Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), and the Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program (GRRP). The strategy behind this organizational shift is that China Lake will be better protected when the surrounding bodies of water are also protected.

What does Stephen Greene see as the future and the greatest challenges ahead for the CLA?

Green responded, “The CLA has been and continues to be a vibrant, effective and constant organizing voice for China Lake protection and restoration. The campaigns it conducts and programs it supports for environmental education, science-based research, watershed surveys, YCC, LakeSmart, boat inspectIons and gravel road restoration have been instrumental in reducing and slowing the phosphorus load to the lake. … As was pointed out in our recent annual meeting, the greatest threat may be the epic task of solving the lakebed phosphorus load.”

Green sees his initial calls to action are to educate, re-engage the membership, and recruit the younger generation to get involved to preserve the lake for future generations. “We owe it to our children to do all we can to secure that destiny.”

China Lake annual meeting reflects on association mission

David Preston, right, Secretary for the China Lake Association, presents a recognition award to Scott Pierz for his seven years of dedicated service to the China Lake Association. (photo by Elaine Philbrook)

by Jeanne Marquis

The 2021 Annual Meeting of the China Lake Association (CLA) was a reflection on how vital their mission is to restore and protect the quality of China Lake. The many speakers and quality of the information shared at this meeting demonstrated the important collaborations CLA has forged with the numerous related environmental organizations and governmental departments.

Scott Pierz, China Lake Association president opened the 2021 meeting with recognition of the passing of Director Emeritus Irma Simon. Her advocacy for the environment earned her the nickname “Mother Nature” by her high school science students. Simon was among the founding members of the China Lake Association and appointed to the Board of Directors a few years later where she served for more than 30 years.

The keynote speaker Jennifer Jespersen founded Ecological Instincts, an environmental consulting firm located in Manchester, Maine. The Kennebec County Soils and Water Conservation District awarded Ecological Instincts the contract to conduct the 2020-21 China Lake Watershed Survey. In addition to her firm’s work with China Lake, Jespersen also manages grant-funded watershed restoration projects on Varnum Pond in Temple, Abrams Pond in Eastbrook and Georges Pond in Franklin.

Jepersen began by outlining the history of studies that have been conducted about the water quality of China Lake and where the current Watershed Survey fits into this body of collected data. The Watershed Survey documented areas of potential soil erosion in the 26 square miles in the Towns of China, Vassalboro and Albion which drain into China Lake. She explained how this information will be used to identify strategies to continue to improve China Lake’s water quality over the next ten years.

Jepersen explains, “Lakes are a reflection of the watershed — the more we change the quality of the runoff, the more we change the quality of the lake.”

Keynote speaker Jespersen previewed another study that measured the naturally occurring release of phosphorus from the sediment at the bottom of the basins of the lake. China Lake has two basins, east and west. The results from this internal loading research will be out in September 2021.

Matt Streeter of Maine Rivers, a guest speaker, presented an update of the Alewife Restoration Initiative for 2021. This initiative began more than six years ago and has restored the run of an estimated 950,000 alewives to help restore the natural ecosystem as it existed prior to the building of the dams. The fish, except for a few lucky ones, will not be able to make it all the way to China Lake until work is completed at the Outlet Dam, which is underway this year. The dam will be replaced by a Denil fishway that will allow the fish to pass through while maintaining the water of the lake. The reason why the restoration of this fish population is so important is that the young alewives will ingest the phosphorus and take it with them when they migrate out to the ocean. Alewife restoration is another vital step in maintaining water quality.

Another guest speaker, Robbie Bickford, Water Quality Director of the Kennebec Water District (KWD), presented a report on last year’s water quality in China Lake. He told the attendees of the annual meeting 2020 was the first year in the last five years that there was not a marked improvement in the water quality of China Lake. He attributed this to an early ice out in the spring and near drought conditions at the start of the summer among other factors. The lack of improvement shows how critical it is to diligently continue our water quality efforts.

Updates were presented at the annual meeting about other China Lake initiatives from China LakeSmart, Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program, Invasive Plant Patrol Program China Lake Loon Count and the Youth Conservation Corps. To find out how to get involved with the China Lake Association or any of the China Lake initiatives go to chinalakeassociation.org for information.

The China Lake Association welcomed in a newly elected president, Stephen Greene and expressed a deep gratitude to Scott Pierz for his seven years of service as president. Under Pierz’ guidance, the China Lake Association developed close relationships with stakeholders and advocated successfully for the funding for effective programs to improve the water quality, educate landowners and visitors.

David Preston said, “Besides being a great organizational leader, one of Scott’s strongest contributions has been his sharp-eyed monitoring of day-to-day issues. If there is a project affecting the lake, or a problem with water levels, you name it and Scott is on it. He persists in standing up for fair enforcement of environmental codes with expertise and conviction of what is right. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, Scott speaks for the lake!”