Watersheds’ Dripping Damage

We see the term “watershed” in newspapers, magazines and may even hear it on television. But what is it? Think of a funnel.  No matter what part of the funnel a drop of water lands on, it drains through the bottom spout.  Watersheds work like funnels, directing water flow from the land surface downhill to streams or lakes.  A watershed is defined by the land area of hills and valleys which direct water to the streams (which, of course, feed our lakes).

Watersheds are important because there is a connection from the tops of hills all the way to the ocean. Anything on the land surface of the earth can be carried into the streams by rain water or melted snow. This can be harmless materials like sand grains, or harmful toxins and pollutants. It is the latter that concerns us, of course.

We use watersheds in many ways. Our houses, workplaces, markets, gardens, and roads are all built on them. We also use them for recreation and sporting events. All these activities, whether on land or on water, can impact our lakes’ water quality. These impacts can be carried from where they occur, to places far downstream, and affect the entire watershed.

The watersheds for our area (which can be found on LAON’s website) are part of a larger watershed called the Lower Androscoggin River Watershed.

At a watershed meeting last September, lake ecologist Scott Williams stated that runoff and watershed development accounted for ninety percent of threats to water quality. Roads, houses, and other hard surfaces increase runoff and the pollutants associated with the area and development.  As mentioned in previous articles, phosphorus is one of the major problem chemicals.  At the same watershed meeting, environmentalist Kristen Feindel stated that phosphorus is 5-10 times more likely to exist in developed areas than in non-developed areas, and that this element can destroy a lake or pond over time due to increased growth of algae and rooted vegetation. Phosphorus sources include the atmosphere, septic systems that are poorly maintained, manure and pet waste, fertilizers and soil erosion. Runoff can speed the delivery from all of these sources into the lakes. Natural vegetation provides a filter that stops some pollutants from entering the lakes, but development removes much of that protection. You can help by ensuring that there is a strong layer of vegetation at your lakeshore, only a couple of feet makes a big difference. Grass lawns do not do the job, and are actually part of the problem.

One way to find and eliminate trouble spots is through a watershed survey on all sources of erosion runoff.  With the help of the property owners, surveys can be conducted on all properties within the watershed of any particular lake or pond. The Lakes Association of Norway would like to conduct such watershed surveys, and we would like to recruit members from the community to help. Contact us via email at laon@norwaylakes.org.

By Stephan Zeeman