Sustaining Maine’s Water Resources

SESSION L: Sustaining Maine’s Water Resources

Session Chair: Chris Feurt, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve; University of New England

Session Description: Freshwater resources in Maine are extensive and highly valued. Human enjoyment and utilization of these water resources is important for aesthetic, cultural, and economic reasons. In the process of making these resources satisfy a human need, we have altered their intrinsic function in the landscape in terms of hydrology and ecology. The human alteration of the landscape is a process that we can try to control or manage. In this session we will explore the resilience of these water resources to human and climate agents of change. This session includes examples of management and behavior change methods to enhance resilience.

Presentations Available

Session Overview

8:30 – 8:55 am
Sustaining Ecosystem Services to Promote Human Well Being – Interdisciplinary Research to Assess the Value of Riparian Buffers

Christine Feurt, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

Riparian buffers and wetlands are a nexus for complex land use challenges where tradeoffs for ecosystem services must be evaluated. Coveted by developers and homeowners, people and property in these areas are vulnerable to flooding, shoreline erosion and sea level rise. Natural buffers have water quality value for their ability to effectively filter nonpoint source pollution and are the last line of defense for filtering stormwater runoff to estuaries. Ecologists recognize and value shoreline habitats for their complex roles in many ecosystem services, however the quantification of human benefits and tradeoffs, as well as the use of resulting information to guide policy, is often hindered by methodological gaps between economic approaches though which ecosystem services are defined and valued and ecological paradigms through which ecosystem processes are modeled. This presentation focuses on an innovative model for interdisciplinary research that integrates ecological, economic and communication research methodologies conducted within the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve. Riparian ecosystem structure and function are being modeled using the ecological methods of the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI). The economic methodology of a choice experiment is being used to define and value riparian ecosystem services. A mental models approach is being used to assess stakeholder understanding of ecosystem services and tradeoffs and to develop explicit strategies for bridging communication barriers between academics of different disciplines and practitioners. This research is conducted collaboratively with a diverse group of local stakeholders whose management objectives for conservation and restoration include sustaining riparian ecosystem services.

9:00 – 9:25 am
Riparian buffers in Southern Maine streams: do they matter ecologically?
Kristin Wilson, Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve

Riparian buffers enhance stream biodiversity and water quality by regulating inputs of light, organic matter, sediment and nutrients. The delivery of these ecosystem services is spatially explicit and dependent on buffer condition, however. This study examines sites along two streams (Branch Brook, Merriland River) in one southern Maine watershed that differ in buffer condition. To assess stream conditions, we recorded water temperature, pH, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, NO3-, percent aquatic vegetative cover, stream bed percent cover, substrates, stream width and depth, stream gradient, velocity, discharge, large woody debris, bank condition, spawning areas and the locations of pools/riffles/runs and pool quality in 2011, 2012, and 2013. To characterize buffer quality, we recorded bank percent vegetated cover, air temperature, canopy cover, and soil nutrients (NO3- and NH4+ using resin bags). To describe stream biota, we measured epibenthic algae using tiles, macroinvertebrate species using rock bags, and fish composition, abundance, and biomass via electronic fishing. Preliminary analyses reveal no major differences by buffer type across years for any biophysical parameter measured. Rather, the greatest differences occurred between streams. The Merriland River had significantly more large woody debris, less sand, more trees along its banks, fewer fish, a lower coldwater index of biological integrity, and fewer brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) than Branch Brook. These data suggest that differences in buffer quality are not as important as between stream differences in this Maine watershed. These data may inform interpretations of residents’ economic valuation of riparian habitats and their mental models of this important ecotone.

9:30-9:55 am
Utilizing Forestry Best Management Practices to Protect Maine’s Water Quality

Karl Honkonen, US Forest Service
Keith Kanoti, Maine Forest Service

Maine’s forests contain many miles of rivers and streams, acres of lakes, and numerous aquifer systems that provide drinking water for Maine residents. These waters also provide recreational opportunities and habitat for aquatic and riparian wildlife. Working cooperatively with Maine’s forestry community to maintain water quality is a critical component of the Maine Forest Service (MFS) mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of Maine’s forests to meet the needs of present and future generations. MFS Forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs) developed with the input of the forest industry, allows foresters and loggers to protect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of waterbodies during timber harvesting. BMPs may include stream crossings, water bars, drainage ditches and other practices aimed at reducing or eliminating water quality problems associated with forestry operations. Monitoring and tracking BMPs using a consistent method across all Maine lands demonstrates an agency-wide commitment to protect water quality and maintain aquatic resources. BMPs are used to control nonpoint source pollution consistent with the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA). MFS prefers a flexible, voluntary BMP approach over prescriptive regulation. MFS has conducted random, statewide monitoring of BMPs on timber harvesting operations since March 2000. Key findings include:

  • 83% of crossings and approaches had BMPs applied appropriately or were avoided.
  • BMPs were not applied on 8% stream crossings and approaches
  • 91% of opportunities evaluated for sediment input found no sediment entered a waterbody
  • When applied appropriately BMPs were effective at preventing sedimentation from entering waterbodies.

10:00-10:25 am
Assessing the ecological and economic vulnerability of Maine’s drinking water resources to extreme precipitation events

Kate Warner, Climate Change Institute and School of Biology & Ecology, University of Maine

Approximately 64% of Maine’s high quality drinking water comes from 46 lakes across the state. This high quality water is threatened by a rapidly changing climate, in particular, extreme precipitation events, which have increased in frequency in the Northeastern U.S. by 60-80% since the 1950’s. Changes to these water resources may have significant impacts on Maine residents and economies. Analysis of a 30-year database of surface water geochemistry and watershed-specific landscape data for 84 remote lakes throughout the Northeast suggests increased concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in lakes during extreme wet years. Increases in DOC, an important regulator of ecosystem function, can influence overall water quality and can have profound implications for drinking water treatment processes. A better understanding of aquatic ecosystem vulnerability and the implications of extreme events on drinking water resources are needed. Our goal is to assess the vulnerability of Maine’s drinking water lakes to extreme precipitation events and subsequent increases in DOC. Ecological and economic criteria were used to select a representative subset of 12 Maine drinking water lakes. Ecological and economic comparative data from the 12 lakes will be presented in addition to plans for further experimentation and sampling to contribute to identifying and understanding the extent to which changing precipitation is altering the chemistry and consequently the biota of Maine’s lakes. This research will help to inform the development of adaptation and management strategies for Maine’s drinking water sources to ensure sustained high water quality.