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Senator George J. Mitchell Center & Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative

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Sustaining Our Lakes

Modeling Resilience and Adaptation in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

Institution: Colby College
Sponsor: National Science Foundation through the Sustainability Solutions Initiative

Maine’s 5,700-plus lakes pump an estimated $2.5 billion into the state’s economy every year. Human activity, however, is reducing water quality in many lakes, which affects everything from property values to tourism dollars to fish. Whitney King, Miselis Professor of Chemistry at Colby College, is leading an SSI team studying the Belgrade Lakes Watershed as a model for creating new strategies to improve and protect lake water quality and promote sustainability in surrounding communities.

Why This Project?

King’s team is studying the effects of development on lake water quality and local economies in the Belgrade Lakes region, an important economic engine in central Maine that includes 7 major lakes and 13 communities. Water quality has been declining in these lakes for several decades.

The researchers are focusing on phosphorus pollution from development and other human activity, which can trigger unchecked algae blooms that can harm fish and other aquatic life, interfere with recreation and lower property values. Several of the Belgrade lakes are among the more than 50 Maine lakes that have experienced recurrent algal blooms and the nearly 500 more at risk. The problem is likely to worsen statewide as more lakeshore is developed.

The complex interactions between environmental, socio-economic, and biogeochemical factors that underlie the problem are not well understood. As a result, policy makers, nonprofits and citizens lack adequate tools to take a comprehensive approach to improving lake water quality and sustainability.

Connecting Knowledge with Action

King’s team is investigating the main sources of phosphorus in the Belgrade lakes, evaluating best practices to prevent phosphorus runoff, examining the links between shoreline management and lake health, and finding the most effective ways to encourage property owners to help through such measures as controlling shoreline erosion. In addition, team members are compiling data on the region’s changing economy and population, collaborating on a K-12 outreach program, and studying a sense of place among residents and visitors and its effect on motivating them to take action to protect the lakes.

The researchers will share their findings with communities, policy makers, stakeholder groups and the public through venues ranging from the Belgrade Lakes Sustainability Project blog to the new Maine Lakes Resource Center in Belgrade Village. They also will communicate results through detailed classroom curricula and hands-on student activities.

Findings from the project will inform efforts to improve water quality and promote sustainability in the Belgrade Lakes region and provide a model for similar efforts in other watersheds.

Update on the Research

Team Members:



Back to Road to Solutions

Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

Image Description: students lake sampling

Image Description: students on boat

Image Description: student at white board


Contact Information

Senator George J. Mitchell Center & Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative
5710 Norman Smith Hall
Orono, ME 04469
Phone: 207.581.3244E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
A Member of the University of Maine System