Road to Solutions — Freshwater Resources

Filling glass from faucetSocio‐Economic and Environmental Analyses for Using Woody Biochar to Conserve Water and Sustain Agriculture in Maine (WRRI 104b 2023)

Water resources will become scarcer in the future, and agricultural systems in Maine are facing the threat of increasing drought. As an iconic crop, wild (or lowbush) blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium Ait.) may undergo severe drought impacts because they grow on sandy soils with a low water holding capacity. Biochar additions could be a prominent solution to increase soil water holding of sandy soils and crop productivity.

Shifting Seasonality: Consequences of the changing autumn season for Maine’s ecologically and recreationally valuable mountain ponds (WRRI 104b 2023)

Mountain ponds are sentinels of regional and global environmental change and are recreational hotspots that contribute to Maine’s tourism economy; however, the strength of climate change in mountain regions and its impact on the water quality and recreational value of these ponds remains unclear. Past climate trends indicate notable climate shifts in the region surrounding Maine’s mountains, occurring during times of year that are influential to lake ecology.

Hydrologic and hydraulic performance of novel shallow wells in agricultural landscapes (WRRI 104b 2023)

This project will leverage stakeholder engagement and participation to address water access in agricultural settings, of great importance to the state of Maine as climate change-driven droughts become more frequent and severe. The overarching goal is to assess novel shallow well performance in an agroecological context. Specifically, the team will investigate how the novel shallow well performs over a range of hydrologic conditions.

Interpreting the extent and characteristics of microplastics pollution in Maine freshwater streams to guide a holistic mitigation strategy (WRRI 2022)

Widespread occurrence of miniscule plastic fragments (i.e., microplastics) in natural waters around the world is an imminent threat to ecosystem and public health. In Maine, microplastic pollution is especially concerning because the state is one of the largest producers of fish and shellfish in the nation and seafood consumption could contribute to microplastic ingestion.

Relative impacts of human-induced and natural wave erosion and deposition processes on large alum treated lakes: A case study on East Pond (WRRI 2022)

The use of alum treatments to bind phosphorus to control algal blooms has been expanding to larger lakes, where there is no historical precedent for success. These larger lakes can have larger wind-created waves that are more energetic, potentially moving more sediment in the lake. This study aims to understand whether boat created waves or wind created waves on East Pond are decreasing the efficacy of the alum treatment on the lake bed.

Valuing the Economic Benefits of Maine’s Great Ponds in the 21st Century (WRRI 2022)

The value and use of the 2,700 Maine’s Great Lakes and Ponds have changed significantly over the past 25 years, when it was estimated that these water bodies contributed $5 billion/year in direct and indirect sales and a net economic value of over $11 billion/year in today’s dollars. Decision makers across the state are looking for current, peer-reviewed information to identify cost-effective ways to manage the myriad uses of these water bodies while protecting water quality, wildlife habitat, and property values.

Developing and Deploying a Risk Framework for PFAS Management in Rural America: Connecting Predictive Models of PFAS Contamination with Risk Perceptions to Guide Management Decisions (WRRI 104g)

Across the United States, there is growing concern about the widespread occurrence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in our water, our food, and our bodies stemming from exposure through landfills, pesticides, atmospheric deposition, consumer products and fire suppressants. This is particularly true in rural America, where the land application of municipal and industrial biosolids to agricultural fields or septage disposal sites may be further contributing to PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface water.

Stakeholders, Earth Scientists, Designers and Planners Can Shape the Dynamics of River Restoration (WRRI 2021)

More than a century of logging and other industrial practices have led to substantial freshwater habitat alterations in Maine streams and rivers, damaging suitable habitat for many fish species including endangered Atlantic salmon. As part of a restoration plan for a section of the Narraguagus River in Washington County, Maine, researchers will study the effects of river structures added to enhance habitat and the interactions between these structures and river ice and stream flow. They will also collaborate with experts to improve the design of engineered log jams that will be constructed in August 2022.

Tracking the Effects of Forest Disturbances and Climate Change on Headwater Streams in Northern Maine (WRRI 2021)

Many northern Maine areas with a history of large-scale forest harvest operations are now experiencing rapid changes in climate conditions. Researchers from the University of Maine System are partnering with diverse stakeholders to support science-based watershed management that accounts for multiple objectives.  

Integrated Assessment of Alternative Management Strategies for PFAS-contaminated Wastewater Residuals (WRRI 2021)

PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are used in a range of consumer products from nonstick cookware to breathable rain gear and food packaging. Though PFAS have been in use since the late 1950s, it is only in the last 20 years that their toxicity has been well documented. Because these chemicals do not break down, they eventually end up in the wastewater streams sent to treatment plants. During treatment, much of the PFAS are removed from the wastewater and become concentrated in the wastewater sludge, or residuals, that remain. In 2019, the state stopped spreading wastewater residuals on farm fields due to the discovery of unsafe levels of PFAS in virtually all samples and PFAS contamination at several Maine dairy farms. An interdisciplinary research team is examining the environmental, social and economic consequences of a range of management options for PFAS-contaminated wastewater residuals.

Strengthening Engagement with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for Watershed Restoration and Environmental Justice

This project seeks to strengthen engagement between researchers and students at the University of Maine and staff of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI) Natural Resources Department (NRD), both in the near and long term. Through supporting creation of a story map, the project aims to raise awareness about the NRD’s water quality, conservation, and climate change work throughout the Meduxnekeag and larger Wolastoq/St. John watersheds. A commitment to justice-oriented and decolonizing approaches to the production of knowledge, aligned with UMaine’s larger research values as they relate to work that intersects with Wabanaki Tribal Nations, is foundational to this work.

Telling Our Stories to Build Sustainable Sea-Run Fish Populations in Maine

Maine’s rivers and streams are home to twelve native species of sea-run (diadromous) fishes, which migrate between freshwater and marine environments to complete their life cycles. These species provide ecological linkages between freshwater and marine biomes and have cultural, social and economic value to the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Maine. The Telling Our Story Workshop series is a participatory and collaborative endeavor to understand and address the communication and outreach needs of sea-run fish practitioners in Maine. In this project, participants will work collaboratively to identify audiences and begin developing messages to motivate action in support of sea-run fish conservation, restoration and management, forming the basis for continued collaboration among sea-run fish partners.

Understanding and forecasting the effects of land-sea connections on harmful algal bloom transport in estuaries (WRRI 104g)

Shellfish are filter feeders that pump water through their bodies and consume algae they have flltered from the water, some of which can be toxic to humans. The biotoxins found in some algae can accumulate in shellfish, and humans can become sick when they ingest the shellfish meat. The algae reproduce (or “bloom”) when environmental conditions are favorable, creating a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) event.

The toxic diatom Pseudo-nitzschia is an algae species that produces a biotoxin that causes  Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP), with human health effects that can include short-term memory loss, gastrointestinal problems, and even fatality.

Using paleolimnology and eDNA to assess links between warmer winters and summer blue-green algae in Maine’s lakes (WRRI 104g)

Blooms of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are a growing problem in freshwater bodies across the United States, where they produce toxins that can cause illness in humans and other animals as well as environmental harm.

The ecological factors that promote the development of these harmful algal blooms (known as cyanoHABs) are poorly understood, and considerable uncertainty remains about how climate interacts with other drivers in determining the prevalence of cyanoHABs.

Assessing the Value of Access to Water-Related Data to Support River Basin Management

The benefits of collaborative river basin planning efforts are increasingly recognized. Informed decision-making in these basins requires access to comprehensive data and information (“water data”) about key issues. However, the water data that are needed are often found in disparate sources, or are not publicly available, posing barriers to effective water management.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated a project to investigate and document the value of improving the discovery, sharing, and use of water data for diverse stakeholder groups. Coordinated dam management practices within and across these basins could lead to opportunities for greater power production and fewer environmental impacts than if dams are managed independently.

Using Socio-Economic Impacts to Inform Decision-Making on Dams (WRRI 2020)

With large-scale river restoration projects becoming more prevalent, new opportunities such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project (PRRP) have emerged to investigate key questions about socio-economic impacts. Comprehensive stakeholder engagement and collaboration between a variety of interests were critical to the success of the PRRP and other similar dam removals. The research team is working with key stakeholders to identify and evaluate impacts of river restoration, continuing to learn about the socio-economic impacts and benefits of dam removals and the importance of building community engagement and education around river restoration.

Reducing Unnecessary Closures in Maine’s Shellfish Growing Areas (WRRI 2020)

There are major public health issues associated with pathogens entering shellfish growing areas across the Maine coast. Storm-related pollution poses significant and poorly anticipated threats to public health with real economic and cultural consequences. The research team is collaborating with the Maine Department of Marine Resources and commercial partners to analyze the storm-pollution link, expand the analysis to include more potential pollution factors, and provide improved, location-specific decision support for pollution-based harvest regulation. The intent of this collaboration is to reduce unnecessary closures and allow for earlier safe re-openings following closures with no added risk to public health.

Farms and Rivers for the Future (WRRI 2020)

As climate change continues to emerge as an important factor in natural resource decisions, developing and practicing collaborative, community-based decision-making will prove to be an important process for increasing communities’ capacity for adaptation. The Farms and Rivers for the Future project seeks to identify and better understand community perceptions in the Meduxnekeag watershed in northern Maine, working with a diverse partnership of organizations located in the watershed.

The Landowner Networking Project: Supporting community-based vernal pool conservation on private land

Private lands provide many public goods (e.g., habitat for wildlife, water conservation, educational, aesthetic, or recreational value), but perceived value to private landowners may be less clear. Achieving conservation goals on private lands thus requires a broader choice of conservation tools and approaches that address the needs and priorities of all landowners. The Maine Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) was devised to meet this need.

Enhancing the Scientific Basis for Predicting the Response of Coastal Maine Estuaries to Polluted Freshwater Runoff (WRRI 2019)

The Coastal Maine Estuaries (CoMEE) Response to Freshwater Runoff project aims to enhance the scientific basis for predicting the response of coastal Maine estuaries to polluted freshwater flows. This collaborative effort will build on the knowledge base and framework created under  the New England Sustainability Consortium’s (NEST) Safe Beaches and Shellfish Project.

Upgrading Culverts for Safer Roads and Healthier Ecosystems (WRRI 2019_

Maine’s communities and economy are critically dependent on the safety of its road network, which is in turn dependent on tens of thousands of culverts that allow water to flow under roads. Unfortunately, many of these culverts are at risk of failure, either due to their degrading condition or because they are undersized for the increasingly large floods and bank erosion caused by climate change and urban development.

Characterizing Watersheds that Influence Coastal Bacteria Pollution (WRRI 2018)

This project is designed to refine and advance the knowledge and understanding of coastal watershed-estuary systems initiated by the NSF funded “Safe Beaches and Shellfish” project led by the collaborative New England Sustainability Consortium (NEST). The Safe Beaches and Shellfish project’s goal was to equip resource managers to make better science-based decisions about the closure of beaches and shellfish beds in response to bacterial pollution problems.

Group Decision-Making Processes for River Systems (WRRI 2018)

Making effective and systems-based decisions about how to manage rivers is essential for balancing the multiple and competing values that rivers and dams provide, especially for including energy production, flood protection, fish habitat and more. For those making decisions, there is a need to have systematic ways of evaluating these values in order to take coordinated action, especially in the context of hydropower decisions.

Getting Over the Dam

Atlantic salmon populations in Maine have declined over previous decades and remain critically low. Despite extensive hatchery supplementation and habitat improvement efforts made by management agencies over the last four decades, there has been no clear population response and extinction of the species remains an immediate threat.

Future of Dams (New England Sustainability Consortium)

This four-year study examines the future of dams in New England and marks an expansion in partners and scope for the New England Sustainability Consortium (NEST), an innovative collaboration focused on increasing the safety of coastal beaches and shellfish beds that are threatened by bacterial pollution and other microbial pathogens…

Protecting Natural Resources at the Community Scale (Vernal Pools Team)

Many Maine communities are facing the same dilemma: how to maintain economic viability without compromising the ecological integrity of natural resources that attract people to Maine. A research team is using local vernal pool conservation as a model to help communities find ways to balance economic development with natural resource conservation on private land…

Improved delineation and analysis of Flood Attenuation in Maine’s watersheds (WRRI 2017)

The 2014 enactment into law of Chapter 589 and passage of the general fund bond affords increased investments towards natural and built infrastructure while seeking to improve Maine’s freshwaters through resource protection (quantity and quality), hazard mitigation (flood risk), and ecosystem integrity (natural capital and services in river corridors and linked stretches of riparian zones and floodplains).

Real Time Data for Sebago Lake (WRRI 2017)

Sebago Lake is the drinking water source for 15 percent of Maine’s population and thus requires a proactive approach to sustaining its water quality in the face of multiple stressors. Like other Maine lakes, it is facing challenges due to climate change, competing uses, and development within the watershed.

Maine’s Changing Winter: Focus on natural resources, ecology, and the economy (WRRI 2017)

Despite our state’s reputation for having cold, snowy winters, Maine scientists and stakeholders do not currently have a depth of expertise in, or knowledge of, the impacts of our changing winter.

Contamination of Messalonskee Lake by Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals in Personal Care Products (WRRI 2017)

Contamination from
 pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) is an emerging and alarming threat to ecosystems and public health. A growing body of research has documented PPCP contamination of lakes and streams all over the world and the effects of these chemicals on aquatic ecosystems.

Older Projects:

Engaging Citizen Scientists to Evaluate the Potential for Water Quality Decline in Maine Lakes

This collaborative project conducts a focused study of 20 Maine lakes to develop a lake Vulnerability Index that combines both stakeholder engagement parameters and physical indicators to predict which lakes are more susceptible to deterioration in water quality…

Vernal Pools for Me (WRRI 2016)

The Vernal Pools for Me project highlights and enhances the connection between stakeholders and their vernal pools by encouraging understanding of these special, small water resources through a portfolio of outreach materials…

Mining in Maine: Exploring Public Perception (WRRI 2016)

Maine has a legacy of mining massive sulfide deposits for metals including copper and zinc. Understanding resident perceptions about metallic mineral mining, and potential impacts on the economy, quality of place, and natural resources in Maine is crucial as the legislature considers changes to the laws governing mining activities. The goal of this project is to identify perceptions on mining laws in Maine by using both qualitative and quantitative research. Phase one will include an analysis of secondary data (testimony, workshops and hearing). In Phase two we will conduct a resident survey to measure attitudes and beliefs towards mining in Maine…

Assessing the Vulnerability of Maine’s Drinking Water Resources to Extreme Precipitation Events (WRRI 2016)

As our climate changes, so do extreme rain and snow events, which have increased in frequency in the Northeastern U.S. by more than 50 percent since the 1950s. For example, on September 30, 2015, Bangor received 5.27 inches of rain in one day. This increase in the rate and intensity of precipitation events and associated rapid runoff is threatening Maine’s high-quality water supplies—more than half of which come from 46 lakes dotted around the state.These extreme events wash organic matter into lakes that can ultimately cause a build up of what’s called “organic carbon,” some of which is in solution as dissolved organic carbon, or DOC for short. Increased DOC can trigger algal blooms, taste and odor problems, and may form by-products. Many water utilities in Maine have expressed concern about these potential problems..

Toward a More Efficient UV Disinfection System (WRRI 2015)

In Maine and other New England states, lakes are often used as a drinking water source; the largest three municipalities in Maine (Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Bangor) use lakes as their primary source for drinking water. In recent years, many lakes in the region have been experiencing a higher frequency of algal blooms, most of which are the harmful blue-green algae. Many water treatment plants with a surface water source, including the three mentioned above, use direct UV photolysis as a means for disinfection…

Understanding Cyanobacterial Blooms in Lakes (WRRI 2015)

This collaborative research incorporates cutting-edge microbial genetics and characterization of cyanobacteria blooms, with a focus on Gloeotrichia echinulata, alongside dynamic metrics of nitrogen (N) cycling by lake phytoplankton and bacteria. This suite of measurements will be taken across a gradient of low nutrient to high nutrient lakes through the ice-free season in the Belgrade Lakes catchment to better understand the role ecosystem N dynamics and microbial community composition may play in the development of cyanobacterial blooms…

Hydrology of Maine Vernal Pools (WRRI 2015)

Vernal Pools are discrete seasonal wetlands that provide critical habitat for species adapted to ephemeral water regimes and are ecologically linked to surrounding terrestrial environments. Hydrology creates the unique conditions needed to form and sustain vernal pool systems, but few studies have described their hydrology. To predict the consequences of development on vernal pools and to make informed decisions that balance wetland conservation and human needs, it is imperative for resource managers and other stakeholders to understand the hydrologic linkages between vernal pools and the surrounding environment…

Connecting Land Cover and Climate to Sebago Lake Drainage Network Processes (WRRI 2014)

This project seeks to quantify connections between physiographic setting, land cover, climate and hydraulic conditions within tributaries draining to Sebago Lake in southern Maine. The interest in the connections is based on the assumption that changes to the tributaries resulting from human activities has implications to water quality and aquatic habitat conditions in the lake and its surrounding satellite ponds…

Safeguarding a Vulnerable Watershed

Sebago Lake is many things to many people: drinking water for about 200,000 Greater Portland residents, a place to play and a source of hydropower. This research team is working to create new tools to aid in planning and policy decisions to help safeguard Sebago’s future…

Phosphorus Cycling in Lake Auburn (WRRI 2014)

Lake Auburn, Maine, serves as the major drinking water source to the cities of Lewiston and Auburn. It has historically had high water quality, as characterized by consistent low turbidity and a nonexistent or mild hypolimnetic anoxia; as a result, the water from the lake has been exempt from filtration by the EPA…

Diadromous Species Restoration Research Network

The goal of the Diadromous Species Restoration Research Network (DSRRN) is to advance the science of diadromous fish restoration and promote state-of-the-art scientific approaches to multiple-species restoration through workshops, conferences, web sharing, and journal publications.

Restoring Maine’s Rivers

The health of Maine’s rivers may be key to the future of the state’s commercial and sports fisheries—and to the economies of the communities that have relied on them. This SSI team is studying alewife restoration in the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers, and the ecological and economic impacts of these efforts on fisheries and economies from the headwaters to the coast…

Sustaining Our Lakes

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. A team at Colby College is 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…

Sustaining Quality of Place in the Saco River Estuary through Community Based Ecosystem Management

After several decades of clean-up efforts, the Saco River Estuary is coming back to life. Surrounding communities are now turning to the estuary as a source of renewal and economic development, but new pressures are emerging, including increasing coastal development. Understanding how these pressures affect the estuary and developing new tools to help stakeholders safeguard its health is the focus of this SSI project…

Charting the Rangeley Region’s Social-Ecological System and Identifying Community Sustainability Strategies

The Rangeley region’s history as a tourist destination and source for the forest products industry tie its socioeconomic opportunities to the viability and character of its natural landscape. The region has recently undergone rapid change as land ownership has shifted from pulp and paper companies to financial capital…