Proximity to some of the best of what Maine has to offer in terms of natural resources likely lies a close second to commercial opportunity in making the Greater Portland area a desirable place to live and work.
That those two attractive qualities are sometimes at odds is a conundrum that has warranted countless hours of debate and consumed the thoughts of local, regional and state officials.
So it goes again for the issues confronting the Presumpscot River watershed. In a 2009 federal report, it was identified as a priority for woodland conservation based on the percent of unprotected private woodlands in the watershed, its importance to the drinking water supply, and the projected amount of pressure from encroaching development.
The watershed includes the 27-mile-long Presumpscot River, as well as its tributaries to Sebago Lake. It includes parts or all of 40 cities and towns, including Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Westbrook, Gorham, Standish, Raymond and Windham. More than 70 percent of the watershed is forested.
“The Presumpscot River watershed provides nearly 10 percent of Maine’s population with clean, safe drinking water,” said Don Mansius, director of the Maine Forest Service’s forest policy and management division. “Clean water depends on well-managed woodlands, and our goal is to help ensure that Portland-area residents continue to have the quality water they need and deserve well into the future.”
Mansius is overseeing a project to assist local woodland owners, from municipalities to companies to private residents, in implementing management practices that will help maintain the high quality of drinking water in Maine’s most populated region. It’s a project that last week was awarded a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
“This grant, which specifically focuses on the Presumpscot River watershed, will allow us to undertake significant educational and outreach programs with watershed communities and landowners,” said Kevin Doran, a natural science educator with the forest service. “It also will allow us to provide financial assistance to them for implementing woodland management plans that will help sustain water quality in their region.”
It is easy to see the impact on the landscape of the poor planning and improper woodland management that can come as the result of hasty development. Longtime residents of some of Maine’s more crowded lakes can with ease and regret point out the detrimental effect to water quality of man-made changes to the landscape, even if those changes were made away from the waterfront, such as with a subdivision built on a ridge.
These are problems years if not decades in the making, and though they are issues that can make landowners bristle, they nonetheless need to be addressed. The grant will help show landowners how to address those issues while providing them with the financial assistance to follow through.
The next step, it seems, is connecting with the landowners. Early in July, the Forest Service will hold a kick-off meeting to begin work on the program.
All woodland owners, especially those without solid management plans, should attend this meeting. When it comes to issues of land management and water quality, the actions of one affect the whole. And with the Greater Portland area sure to grow and expand further into the sensitive rural sections of the watershed, upholding water quality should be a top priority.