Tag Archive for: China Lake Association

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!”

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.

China/Vassalboro fifth graders help with revegetation program

Students at VCS helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam Site.

Fifth grade students from China Middle School and Vassalboro Community School are continuing the work started two years ago by fellow students helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam site, in Vassalboro. They are learning the connections between alewives, native plants and the restoration of Maine waterways back to their original state. The restoration of Maine waterways, also known as the Alewife Restoration Initiative, will allow river herring, an anadromous fish, to return to freshwater to spawn.

The site of Masse Dam, which was removed in 2018. (photo by Eric Austin)

Matt Streeter, from Maine Rivers, shared what has happened and is happening as dams are being removed allowing alewives and blueback herring to return to China Lake and Outlet Stream. Nate Gray from the Maine Department of Marine Resources provided information on alewives as a keystone species and what that means to our local environment. Anita Smith, a Maine Master naturalist, clarified the difference between native and invasive plants and why we need to focus our restoration efforts with native species.

This year’s seed collection were ones that would do well in wet to medium wet soils. Some of the seeds planted were Swamp Milkweed, Swamp Smart Weed, New England Asters, Wild Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan and Golden Alexander. Next fall students will go to the Masse Dam site to plant their young plants along the outlet stream. There is also a plan for the fifth graders to visit the site this spring. In the spring they will learn more about the history of the site, identify critters from the stream to determine if the stream is healthy or not, as well as plant shrubs along the stream’s edge.

Seeds for this project were provided by the China Lake Association.

Article and photos submitted by Elaine Philbrook of the China Lake association.

Students at CMS helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam Site.

Winners of 2019 China Lake Association post contest

The winners of the China Lake Association poster contest were, from left to right, Elaine Philbrook, contest coordinator, April Dutilly (fifth grade, fourth place), Madeline Clement (fifth grade, fourth place), Elijah Pelkey (fifth grade, third place), Elliotte Podey (fifth grade, first place), and Kayleigh Morin (sixth grade, first place). Back is China Lake Association President Scott Pierz. Not present, fifth grade winners, Ruby Pearson (second place), Bayley Nickles (fourth place), and Octavia Berto (sixth grade, second place), and Jayda Bickford (sixth grade, third place). (photo courtesy of Elaine Philbrook)

China Lake Association holds annual meeting

At their annual meeting on July 28, the China Lake Association presented Scott and Katy McCormac with the LakeSmart Award. In photo, Katy, left, accepts the award from Marie Michaud. (Contributed photo)

Submitted by Scott Pierz

The China Lake Association held its annual summer meeting on Saturday, July 28, at the China Primary School, which included an excellent presentation by Dr. Whitney King, of Colby College. More than 70 people attended.

China Lake Association Director Elaine Philbrook presented awards for this year’s poster contest held for the fifth and sixth graders at the China Middle School. There were amazing posters again this year, created upon the theme of “The Year of the Buffer.” The top award winners were fifth grader Chase Larrabee and sixth grader Stephanie Kumnick.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Whitney King, from Colby College, who presented the audience with information about the condition and treatment of East Pond. His talk was entitled, “Saving East Pond: A Cautionary Tale.” During this summer, a team of participants and scientists undertook the task of introducing alum, also known as Aluminum Sulfate, into East Pond. The project took 20 days to complete. In proper concentrations, this process is believed to reduce (“lock up”) the phosphorus concentration in the water-body thereby limiting the availability of phosphorus to produce algae blooms. Dr. King’s report also included information about the historical condition of China Lake. There were many interesting and good questions, and Dr. King was very dynamic and knowledgeable in his presentation.

Director Elaine Philbrook talked about the Invasive Plant Paddle Program she is participating in, with a scheduled Plant Paddle to take place on Tuesday August 21, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Four Seasons Club, 570 Lakeview Drive. To register and to find more information about the Invasive Plant Paddle, go to: https://www.mainevlmp.org/invasive-plant-patrol-workshops/

Director Marie Michaud updated everyone on the progress being made this summer with the China LakeSmart Program. She reported that China LakeSmart was in full swing with over a dozen new shorefront buffers already installed this summer. The work is completed by the Youth Conservation Corps operated by the China Region Lakes Alliance. More work is expected to be completed by this season’s end. People were encouraged to join her team of volunteers who assess the shoreline of China Lake property owners who would like a buffer planted. It is a free service to China Lake property owners. Anyone interested can e-mail chinalakesmart@gmail.com. Finally, Katy and Scott McCormac were recognized for achieving a LakeSmart Award, which was presented by Marie Michaud.

The Kennebec Water District was recognized for its contributions, once again donating considerable funds to support China LakeSmart projects. Also, the Kennebec Water District helps support the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program on China Lake. Inspectors can be seen at the Head of China Lake on the weekends. The Kennebec Water District’s representative, Matt Zetterman, made a presentation and reported that China Lake again, for the second year in a row, has had incredibly good water quality based on lake monitoring data.

Nate Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources gave an excellent update on the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI). He spoke on the progress being made on the ARI project, including last year’s removal of the Masse Dam, and the upcoming scheduled removal of the Lombard Dam, in Vassalboro. He commented that conceptual fish passage designs continue to be developed for the Ladd and Box Mill Dams, in North Vassalboro, along with an engineered design of a fish passage at the Outlet Dam, in East Vassalboro.

Director Bob O’Connor wrapped up with the loon count for China Lake this year, reporting a decrease in the number of loons observed: 20 adult loons but only one new loon chick seen. This loon count is conducted early in the morning the Saturday before the annual meeting for a very short period of time, and in specific locations around the lake. This is the established way in which the loon count takes place, however, other local reports set the number of observed new loon chicks to be four.

Finally, Registered Agent Jamie Pitney conducted the business of renewing some of the director’s terms and the slate of officers will remain the same for another year until the next annual meeting in 2019. These include Scott Pierz (President), David Preston (Secretary), Tim Axelson (Treasurer) and James Pitney (Registered Agent).

For additional information about the China Lake Association or for anyone interested in becoming a member go to the China Lake Association’s website at http://chinalakeassociation.org/ or check things out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/China-Lake-Association.