Water quality of Presumpscot and tributaries tested

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WESTBROOK – The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust announced this week that many of the popular recreational spots along the Presumpscot River from the Sebago Lake area to the greater Portland area were below the state’s threshold for E. coli bacteria levels throughout the water quality sampling season in 2017. 

Between May and September, more than 35 citizen scientist collected at least 10 water samples from 36 sites along the river noting E. coli (an indicator of possible fecal contamination), water temperature and dissolved oxygen, which wildlife need to survive in the water.

According to results on the land trust’s website, 100 percent of the water samples taken at several popular recreation spots—including by Dundee and Shaw Parks and the covered bridge in Windham, the boat launch by Saccarappa Falls and the city docks along the river in Westbrook, and a section of river near Riverton Trolley Park in Portland—all met state bacteria levels and are safe for recreation.

Fred Dillon, president of Presumpscot River Watch, which merged with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust in October 2016, said bacteria can be found in the river for a variety of reasons, including development near the watershed, nearby failing septic systems, as well as fecal matter from farm animals and other wildlife.

“There is a fairly loose connection between the extent of development and water quality,” said Dillon, who has been testing the Presumpscot watershed for the last 20 years. “How and where stuff gets built can affect water quality. Land use does matter.”

In a press release Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust said as the region had grown, so too has the recreational opportunities in the river. There are now more than 20 public access points in the river for paddling, swimming or fishing.

“Clean water is critical to safe recreation and for healthy wildlife habitat in the river,” Curran Apse said.

While many of the recreational spots along the river were below the state’s threshold, Curran Apse noted in the release the concerning news is “many of the tributaries of the Presumpscot River exceeded state standards for bacteria levels multiple times last summer.” She said work will be undertaken to improve conditions of those waters.

“There are concerning areas in most of the tributaries, which provides a lot of opportunity for collaboration between us, municipalities and other groups to look at conservation and restoration throughout the region,” she said. 

She said there are no specific projects in the works related to the water quality data, but representatives of the land trust will be sharing the results with officials in Standish, Windham, Gorham, Westbrook, Falmouth and Portland soon to find ways to partner in an effort to improve water quality.

“(The water samples) are very helpful for those who are interested in the river to determine how clean the water is, but they are just a snapshot in time. When you start putting that data together, you can see trends,” Dillon said. The Presumpscot River Watch has been monitoring the health of the Presumpscot River watershed since 1989.

The state uses the data from the water samples to, according to the release, “identify rivers and streams that do not attain state standards and works with partners to develop restoration plans that address potential water quality problems in the watershed.

“Volunteer groups like the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust often collect water quality samples from locations that are not regularly monitored by our staff,” said Mary Ellen Dennis, who coordinates Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s volunteer river monitoring program. “This allows us to have a better idea of water quality conditions for a broader geographic area.”

Dillon said the merging of his group and the land trust offers a much more robust team of volunteers for the Water Stewards program.

“Presumpscot River Watch is a more modest number of volunteers. Now we are with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, there is a larger capacity for testing and more volunteers,” Dillon said. “With the increased capacity, we hope to start doing follow-ups to identify potential sources of contamination.”

Curran Apse said along with testing the water quality of the Presumpscot River, the Water Stewards this spring and summer will also be testing the quality of water in four sites along the Stroudwater River in Westbrook and Portland. She said it will be the first time the river has had state-certified annual testing.

“It will be great to add that information to the other watershed data,” she said.

A new round of water quality testing is right around the corner and volunteers are still needed. No experience is necessary. The land trust’s water stewards program work closely with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s volunteer river monitoring program to train individuals. For more information visit prlt.org. 

Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews.

The section of the Presumpscot River that runs through downtown Westbrook was one of the areas tested last year through the Water Stewards Program that fell below the state’s maximum threshold for E. coli bacteria. (Staff photo by Michael Kelley)

Dundee Park in Windham, a popular spot for swimming and paddling in the summer months, was one of the water quality testing sites that passed the state’s threshold for dissolved oxygen and E. Coli bacteria counts last year. (Staff photo by Matt Junker)

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