Real-time Data for Sebago Lake

Institution: St. Joseph’s College
Sponsor: Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions

To support sustainable water resource management, lake research, undergraduate research training, and community engagement

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. This project will involve the deployment of a high frequency data collecting and transmitting buoy to provide the ability to monitor the lake’s response to stress and build an understand of fundamental lake dynamics. This data and research resulting from it will inform sustainable management of the lake in the short and long term.

While monitoring is a crucial technical need, we also view it as an opportunity for stakeholder engagement and education. Four stakeholder groups will drive the delivery platform and design of data products resulting from the buoy measurements thus maximizing the opportunity for the data to inform stakeholders and encourage their sustainable use of the lake. The collaboration between St. Joseph’s College (SJC) and Portland Water District (PWD) is a natural one due to shared interest in Sebago Lake, complementary interdisciplinary skill sets, and the ability to leverage existing relationships between PWD and stakeholders. Three undergraduate students will be trained in technical topics and stakeholder engagement, with one exclusively focused on social science. They will have the opportunity to work with both SJC and PWD scientists, leaving them uniquely prepared to tackle Maine’s sustainability challenges.

New England’s lakes are changing in response to climate, use, and development stressors. Winter ice is forming later and melting earlier, giving algae an extended growing season. Increased rainfall and more frequent extreme storms mean more phosphorus and organic carbon- rich sediments wash into our lakes where they feed algae. The presence of Gloeotrichia, a cyanobacteria, in northeastern lakes has increased over the past few decades, and it does indeed exist in Sebago.

Managing water resources is inherently a sustainability issue. How do we maintain our high-quality drinking water supply into the future while co-existing with interests that are to some degree competing with the quality of the lake (development of forested watershed land, lakeshore living, lake recreation) and simultaneously dealing with the effects of climate change?

As a water supply, Sebago Lake faces a unique set of challenges. Most of the watershed land is privately owned and therefore open to potential development. While many surface water suppliers own most or all of their watershed land, Portland Water District (PWD) owns only 1 percent of the Sebago Lake watershed and only an additional 8 percent is protected from development.

Currently, the PWD conducts monthly sampling for traditional water quality parameters: temperature, dissolved oxygen (DO), Secchi disk clarity, Chlorophyll a, and total phosphorus. Monthly sampling provides only a snapshot of the lake throughout the monitoring season. Higher frequency sampling (and sharing of the resulting data) will give researchers the ability to make high quality models of the timing of overturning and mixing of nutrients that can build a true understanding of lake dynamics and responses to stress.

Understanding and communicating the scope of the stress response requires a number of social and scientific actions:

1) high-frequency monitoring of physical-chemical water parameters;

2) modeling that contains and explains this data;

3) careful observations of the shifting ecological communities;

4) solicitation of stakeholder mindsets and motivations to inform communication of the risks of the stress response to stakeholders to encourage active participation in sustainable lake stewardship.

This project addresses the first and fourth action items—monitoring and stakeholder involvement. We will greatly increase monitoring capability with the deployment of a high frequency, multi-depth data logging and transmitting buoy equipped with temperature, pH, Chlorophyll a, DO, and optical clarity sensors. We will leverage the data generated for not just research purposes, but to engage stakeholders in new ways.

Team Leader:

  • Emily Lesher, St. Joseph’s College

Team Members

  • Brie Holme, Portland Water District
  • Ryan Dorland,
 St. Joseph’s College
  • Nina Eduljee,
 St. Joseph’s College