Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

UMaine Lake Monitoring Project Bolstered with NSF Funding

ORONO, MAINE – The National Science Foundation has awarded a one-year, $100,000 grant for continuing a University of Maine citizen-science project aimed at protecting lake water quality in the state. The NSF grant will help extend the project, which began in 2015 with funding from UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, into 2018 and beyond.

Maine lakes are home to a diversity of fish and wildlife. They provide enormous economic, social, recreational, and aesthetic benefits to the people of Maine and millions of annual visitors. Maine lakes contribute approximately $4 billion to the state economy.

However, many lakes are experiencing declining water quality due to a variety of factors—chief among them a process in which nutrients such as phosphorus stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen. This can affect the overall health of the ecosystem and diminish the economic benefits of recreational use, shorefront property values and, when a lake is used as a community drinking water source, lead to significantly higher treatment costs.

Using the data generated from year one of the project, the investigators were able to secure additional Mitchell Center funding as well as funds from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund for year two of the project beginning in 2017.

Collaborators include Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP)  monitors, homeowners, and lake associations on lake stewardship activities, and the DEP. The project is led by Aria Amirbahman, UMaine professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Firooza Pavri, director of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, who conducts the social science component of the work.

The initial interdisciplinary project focused on 24 Maine lakes in an effort to develop a “lake Vulnerability Index” through a blend of biophysical measurements and social science techniques. The Index is meant to be a means of predicting which lakes are more susceptible to deterioration in water quality via chemical, physical, and biological measurements and identifying—through surveys and interviews—the underlying factors that encourage successful citizen science collaborations.

One of the most important benefits to the project’s social science aspect is that findings from such holistic, interdisciplinary approaches can help policymakers develop more sophisticated tools to address complex environmental problems driven by multiple factors.

When fully developed, the Vulnerability Index will provide scientists, regulators, and concerned citizens a clear window on the complex interplay of factors that contribute to the health of Maine lakes.

For more information, contact David Sims, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at (207) 581-3244 or david.sims@maine.edu.