New Report Released on Region’s Coastal Water Quality

George Forristall (left) and Ted Skowron sample water with Rockport Conservation Committee, a partner of the Maine Coastal Observing Alliance.

George Forristall (left) and Ted Skowron sample water with Rockport Conservation Committee, a partner of the Maine Coastal Observing Alliance.

New Report Released on Region’s Coastal Water Quality

The Maine Coastal Observing Alliance (MCOA) announced the release of its new report on the region’s coastal water quality. MCOA was formed in December 2014 to coordinate a regional effort to monitor coastal waters, particularly estuaries, and detect trends such as those related to ocean acidification and nutrient loading.

Estuaries are the semi-enclosed areas where fresh water from streams and rivers mixes with salt water from the ocean. Both marine water from the ocean and fresh water coming off the landscape contribute to the water quality conditions in estuaries, which are critical habitat for wildlife and support local economies.

MCOA is a consortium of the following local conservation organizations: Damariscotta River Association, Friends of Casco Bay, Georges River Tidewater Association, Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, Medomak Valley Land Trust, Rockport Conservation Commission and Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association.  Recently, Boothbay Regional Land Trust has joined the alliance.

MCOA successfully conducted its first monitoring season in August and September of 2014 and the initial findings have just been published in “Maine Coastal Observing Alliance Estuarine Monitoring Program Summary Report 2014.”

The initial monitoring project was funded by the Davis Conservation Foundation, Maine Sea Grant, Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the partnering organizations. The 2015 monitoring season has just been completed and was funded by Maine EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), a National Science Foundation program.

The report summarizes the extensive analysis of the 2014 data in part by stating, “These estuaries were generally in a healthy state in that they did not exhibit excessive nutrient loading or oxygen deficits. The Harraseeket estuary seemed closest to a state of some risk of eutrophication based on nutrient levels. The low pH of waters entering the estuaries at the seaward and landward ends are cause for concern, but it is unclear if these conditions are a result of human influence or natural processes of the watersheds and open Gulf of Maine.”

One of the primary questions for researchers and citizen monitoring groups alike is whether water quality conditions are influenced by land-ward or sea-ward influences and to what degree. Dr. Larry Mayer, co-author of the report pictures this as what he calls, “the Paul Revere Question.”

Mayer explained recently that in order to implement policy and land-use management that effectively protect the critical natural resources of the estuary, stating, “We need to find the signal that tells us about the source of conditions impacting the coastal areas. This kind of regional perspective is the only way to determine from where the conditions are emanating because otherwise conditions may be assumed to be isolated when in fact there may be a shared or regional source, alternatively the opposite might be assumed.”

MCOA Chair and Damariscotta River Association Director of Education and Environmental Monitoring Sarah Gladu recently enthused, “I am immensely impressed by the capacity that this group of local citizen organizations has already demonstrated. Partnering with researchers Kathleen Thornton and Larry Mayer of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, Dr. Runge of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and local aquaculture industry representatives has been invaluable and enabled us to ensure that the data we collect is quality assured and reliable.”

“This is paramount,” she continued, “and enables us to provide meaningful information to citizens who strive to protect water quality through best-management practices on private property, to the regions’ conservation organizations as a guide for land stewardship efforts and to our communities as they manage growth and land use over time.”