10. The Saco Watershed Collaborative – Strategies for Sustainability in Southern Maine’s Largest Watershed

Afternoon Session (Howard Room, North Wing, 1st Floor)

* 2.5 credits are available for this session through APA AICP

Chair: Chris Feurt, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve and University of New England
Moderator: Robyn Saunders

The 1700 square mile Saco Watershed provides food, fiber, drinking water, renewable energy and recreational opportunities for thousands of people. The ecosystem services of the watershed support livelihoods, communities and businesses in Maine and New Hampshire and contribute to strongly held values connected to sense of place throughout the region. For three years a diverse and dedicated group of partners have worked to build the Saco Watershed Collaborative to sustain what people value most about the watershed. This session will highlight the strategies used to build the diverse membership of the Collaborative, challenges faced, and plans for the future, highlighting lessons learned relevant to all watershed groups.

Session Presentations

  • 1:30PM – 1:55PM: Using Sustainability Science to Build the Saco Watershed Collaborative, Chris Feurt
  • 2:00PM – 2:25PM: Facing New Challenges in Forest Management for Water Protection, James Innes
  • 3:00PM – 3:25PM: The Business of Clean Water A Model for Watershed Collaboration, Rick Knowlton
  • 3:30PM – 3:55PM: The History of the Saco River Corridor Commission: How Citizens of our own Communities work to preserve Land and Water Quality, Dalyn Houser

1:30PM – 1:55PM

Using Sustainability Science to Build the Saco Watershed Collaborative

Chris Feurt, Coordinator, Sustainable Communities Collaborative, University of New England and Director, Coastal Training Program, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve


Principles and practices of sustainability science are being used to convene and guide the formation of the Saco Watershed Collaborative. Members of the Collaborative represent diverse organizations with shared goals for sustaining the ecosystem health and benefits of the Saco Watershed. The Saco Watershed with headwaters in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is the largest watershed in southern Maine. Like many Maine Rivers, the Saco is a working river serving industry, business, and recreation. A committed “Stewardship Network” of communities, governments, land trusts, watershed groups and organizations passionate about fish, wildlife, clean water, environmental quality and special places are actively engaged in sustaining the Saco. Creating synergies among this network is a goal of the Collaborative. Competition for the ecosystem services and benefits provided by the Saco creates challenges. Strategies to achieve goals related to fish passage, drinking water, energy production, recreational use, and ecosystem health must be balanced and negotiated. The Collaborative sponsored field trips and meetings designed to educate participants about the different ways that organizations practice stewardship and to develop a sense of shared purpose. A collaboratively developed Action Plan will guide future work and measure the progress of the Collaborative.

2:00PM – 2:25PM

Facing New Challenges in Forest Management for Water Protection

James Innes, Saco District Ranger, White Mountains National Forest, US Forest Service


The White Mountains National Forest was created over 100 years ago to protect the headwaters of the Saco Watershed. Forest management and forestry research contributed to the reforestation of the headwaters over the decades since the National Forest creation. Current forestry practices follow best practices for watershed protection. Increasing recreation pressure, demands for parking and trail maintenance all have water quality impacts. A new challenge emerged with the Halloween storm of 2017. Extreme precipitation impacts washed out a bridge, road and flooded nearby communities. Following this event, the US Forest Service completed a hydrologic study and is working to plan for future extreme weather events. Dam removal, habitat improvement and cultivating conservation partnerships like the Saco Watershed Collaborative are all part of the US Forest Service approach to sustaining the Saco watershed.

2:30PM – 3:00PM

Afternoon Break (Main Auditorium)

3:00PM – 3:25PM

The Business of Clean Water A Model for Watershed Collaboration

Rick Knowlton, President, Maine Water Company


The Maine Water Company is a public water utility that currently owns or manages 13 water systems engaged in the collection, treatment, and distribution of potable water for homes, businesses and fire protection services. The Maine Water Company serves more than 32,000 customers (approximately 80,000 residents) in 21 Maine communities. The Saco River is the source water for the Maine Water Company’s operations in Biddeford and Saco. Plans are underway for building an updated water treatment facility in Biddeford. The Maine Water Company provides both expertise and financial support for the Saco Watershed Collaborative. The Biddeford water treatment plant has hosted numerous tours to educate members of the Collaborative about the importance of source water protection and the implications for water treatment when the quality of Saco River water is impacted by land use practices and extreme precipitations events.

3:30PM – 3:55PM

The History of the Saco River Corridor Commission: How Citizens of our own Communities work to preserve Land and Water Quality

Dalyn Houser, Executive Director, Saco River Corridor Commission


Over 46 years ago, citizens concerned over improper and incompatible development of the Saco River Corridor approached the Maine State Legislature. They were deeply concerned about the occurrence of environmental degradation to the lands and waterways of the Corridor and the loss of the current cultural values present in Southern Maine. After 2 years of extensive research of the unique natural resources present in the Corridor the Saco River Corridor Act was established in 1973 in order to protect the integrity and quality of the waterways and lands of the Corridor.

The purpose of the Commission is to preserve the existing water quality of the Saco, Ossipee and Little Ossipee Rivers and protect public health, safety, and the quality of life for the State of Maine through the regulation of land and water uses, protection and conservation of the region’s unique and exceptional natural resources, and through the prevention of impacts caused by incompatible development.

The same is true today that was true in 1973, the Commission provides a comprehensive protection to the land and waterways of the Corridor unlike any other federal, state or local regulation. The foundation of the Act was established purposefully, in order to keep the decision-making power of the development occurring in our communities in the hands of the local people. The regulations and standards of the Saco River Corridor Act are carried out by members of our own communities who volunteer their time to ensure proper development and secure the Maine natural shoreline.