NEWPORT, Maine – The Newport Select Board will select one of two environmental firms that it interviewed to pursue grant writing for funding for a watershed study at Sebasticook Lake.
Members heard Jennifer Jespersen from Mount Vernon-based owner Ecological InstinctsAt their meeting via Zoom on Wednesday night, she discussed how her team would approach this project. FB Environmental Association presented to the board on Dec. 1.
Over the years, Sebasticook Lake has been subject to excessive phosphorus pollution. This was due to a variety of reasons, including improper agricultural and irrigation practices, waste disposal by mills and other causes. In 2005, the last watershed study of the 4,288-acre body was published. February 2001. Newport hopes that new data from the lake will provide a better picture of phosphorus levels, water quality, and practices for addressing algal blooms in the future.
Ecological Instincts, which is a small, woman-owned business, was established in 2015. It specializes in developing watershed plans. According to Jespersen, one-hundred percent have been granted for municipalities and lake associations across the state.
Jespersen conducted field assessments in 2012 with the Maine Department of Environmental Protections project to examine the conditions of Mulligan stream, north of Sebasticook Lake.
Jespersen stated that the firm is currently working on projects at North Pond (in Smithfield), Unity Pond, and China Lake. These lakes, like Sebasticook are all impaired lakes. They don’t meet state water quality standards. She stated that water clarity readings in Sebasticook are below 2 meters (roughly 6.56 feet), and that the lake is currently experiencing ongoing algal blooms.
We want to understand the current sources of pollution before we can develop this management plan. It has been a while. Jespersen stated that it was time to examine what’s happening on the ground and in water.
Newport can now raise awareness about current issues and build support for the restoration of the lake with a new watershed plan. Jespersen stated that the plan would push Sebasticook Lakes average phosphorus level of 24 parts per million closer to 10ppb.
Jespersens would provide maps of geographic information systems similar to FB Environmental Association to present its research. The firm could use watershed modeling and field assessments to help improve water quality.
Our watershed plans have been scientifically sound and written in an easy-to-understand way for the general public. Jespersen stated that this is what I enjoy doing to make complicated things easier to understand.
Donna Berry, Select Board Vice Chairperson, inquired about the firm’s success in working with farmers or other sources that can contribute to problems in the lake.
Jespersen explained that it is difficult for agricultural land to be assessed in a short amount of time. In the past, Jespersen has worked in collaboration with local conservation districts as well as the Natural Resources Conservation Service to perform a separate assessment. This would include looking at records to find out which farms are adopting best practices.
She explained that she usually does an agriculture and forestry survey in order to determine which areas have been harvested recently, and to what extent. Working with landowners is only possible when there is a trusting middle person who can work with them regularly.
Jesperson also presented a draft schedule in case Ecological Instincts was selected as a partner for the watershed project. Her firm would begin to work on the grant application in 2012 and will establish a local match of 25% in February. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection would receive the application in April.
Jespersen stated, “If the grant is to become available, they will make announcements in summer.” Contracting would take between October-December. The process of developing the watershed plan would take approximately one year.
In-person meetings will resume in January by the Newport Select Board. The next meeting is scheduled for January 5, at 6:30 p.m.