Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Yay !!! I finally finished my American shad spawning video, but I only got underwater footage of the babies. They are cutesy little buggers. These were filmed in the Kennebec River, but right now, the little baby shad are trying to survive their first year in the Presumpscot River, due to the removal of the Smelt Hill Dam in 2002. They must now be allowed to swim all the way to Sebago Lake.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Songo river- erosion and milfoil part two

Part Two

The following photos are of the Songo River. Unnatural erosion of the shorelines are evident .
Milfoil patches are very visible outside of the boat channel in the lower Songo. The photos were taken from video on August 24, 2010. The water level is 264.1 feet. Water celery is present. It is a native plant and is beneficial. It appears to be in competition with the milfoil.

Songo river- erosion and milfoi

The following photos are of the Songo River. Unnatural erosion of the shorelines are evident .
Milfoil patches are very visible outside of the boat channel in the lower Songo. The photos were taken from video on August 24, 2010. The water level is 264.1 feet.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friends of Sebago Lake on MPBN Television

You can view it here.

Gunboats on the Songo -- Stopping Invasive Milfoil

From the Bridgton News:
By Roger Wheeler, president
Friends of Sebago Lake

The recent headlines in the Bridgton News, “Crisis on the Songo” about the choking milfoil takeover of this famous little river reminded me of a 133 year-old Bridgton News article about a gun battle that erupted at Songo Locks in February of 1877.

Apparently, Westbrook contingents unhappy with the withholding of water from Sebago Lake and ponds above in the watershed forcibly gained control of the Songo Locks dam as well as the Sebago Lake dam. The Bridgton News reportedly quoted the local humor that gunboats were necessary to patrol the Songo River to keep order. Calmer minds prevailed and the “lack” of permanent storage was remedied with an addition to the Sebago Lake dam.

Today, gunboats are on the Songo but they are armed with the finest river bottom vacuum hoses that technology can provide. The enemy is milfoil. The milfoil “crisis,” however, is only a symptom of a looming ecosystem catastrophe brought about by the present highly unnatural freshwater flow regulation of the Presumpscot River-Sebago Lake watershed. This crisis is related to the1877 Songo Locks gunbattle over who controlled the flow of freshwater and our lake levels.

Sebago Lake’s historic superior water quality and late 1800’s fishery was a direct result of the Westbrook powers’ 1877 defeat of the navigation interests for control of water flow. Prior to 1877 and up until 1987 Sebago Lake outflows were as uniform as possible throughout the year. They went as low as 10,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm) and as high as 200,000 cfm but usually 42,000 cfm was the average flow.

This created water levels that mimicked the natural seasonal cycle of lakes with the natural historic fluctuations and between the years variability. Due to droughts, perhaps once or twice a decade, water levels reached the lowest 10th percentile or about 7 to 8 feet below the dam. Consequently, with these variations in lake level the lower Songo River was a sandy bottom stream with diverse natural vegetation along its meandering shorelines and wetlands. The river was always changing course gradually as the sands were always moving down river to its delta in Sebago Lake. This uniform flow regulation allowed the conditions for maintaining the most diverse and successful ecosystem habitat and for maintaining the highest quality water.

In 1987 the Westbrook “interests” (SD Warren Co.) finally succumbed to the greed of new bonus winter hydropower profits and the clamor of the marinas and started withholding those “uniform outflows” in the spring, summer, and fall. The historic range of fluctuations disappeared as well as between years variability. The common lower summer and fall water levels permanently ended. The water level regulation now is strictly controlled to insure high water in warmer months. The lake level rule curve strictly requires reaching precise levels on certain days of the year. The lake is mandated to be 18 inches below the spillway on August 1st. Fluctuations up to six and one half feet of its former range on this August 1 date have been eliminated! What has that done to the Songo River?

The present highly unnatural lake regulation has provided the conditions in which milfoil thrive and out-compete native plants. Prior to the 1980’s, Songo River sands were constantly moving because of the fluctuating water levels. Native vegetation lined the river in the shallows. It was good spawning habitat for salmon and trout. Native plants had adapted to the seasonal fluctuations and variability. They do not survive well with the present, near-constant, high water levels in the warm months of the year. The higher lake levels caused accelerated erosion of the riverbanks. The Songo River is 20 to 40 feet wider than 30 years ago. This rich eroded sediment accumulates on the once former sandy bottom channel, fueling the milfoil growth.

The main river channel is deeper and straighter. The stream channel where kids and camps once played, swam, canoed, and picnicked on sand bars has been replaced with a flooded channel that is choked with milfoil and black with the organic deposition. Now, the wetlands of the Songo never dry out to allow dead plant debris to safely desiccate and decompose. This has changed the chemistry of the wetland and river bottom soils. Elements like phosphorus, once safely sequestered in the wetland and river bottom soils because of occasional oxygenated conditions, now are released from the new anoxic soils into the water column, harming the water quality of the lake and fueling the growth of the invasive plants.

The same unnaturally high water level regulation that is harming the Songo River ecosystem has also eroded and decimated Maine’s most outstanding inland beaches. One only has to compare pre-1980s photos with the present. The lake regulation is harming the water quality of Sebago Lake according to a 2007 and 2008 Portland Water District report. However, PWD is backpedaling mightily this year on the data analysis because it could lose its waiver for filtration, and this might double the water bills of greater Portland.

Moreover, the unnatural freshwater flows from Sebago Lake into the Presumpscot River, along with the other similar watersheds in Maine, are having profound harmful impacts on the coastal estuaries and Casco Bay. Thanks to the regulation we have now, there has been an 18 fold increase in Presumpscot River low- flow events from 1997 to 2009 as compared with the time frame from 1910-1986. The high flow events are much higher and at unnatural times of the year. The river-clogging milfoil is a symbol of an an interconnected ecosystem failure from the far upstream lakes of the watershed to the ocean.

If the Congress of Lakes Association, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and others that control the high water mindset allow good science to govern water flow regulation, then milfoil can be defeated. When the Songo River is restored to a sandy bottom stream by returning natural variable historic fluctuations and allowing natural vegetation reestablishment, the remaining milfoil will be controllable. The salmon and trout will return to the Songo River. With fishways again restored to the Presumpscot River as the law dictates and a return to natural fluctuations and variable water levels, we could once again see Bridgton News quotes about the Songo River, such as was reported in the spring of 1877 “that fishermen line the Songo” and “ten ten pounders is a good day’s catch”.

Stopping Milfoil in the Songo River

Opinion Column – Lakes Region Weekly
By Steve Kasprzak
Friends of Sebago Lake

The recent call to close Songo Locks to boat traffic by Peter Lowell, executive director of the Bridgton-based Lakes Environmental Association has been drowned out by boating interests.

Camp owners, your property values are being threatened by the refusal of State officials to close Songo Locks to boat traffic for the economic benefit of marina owners. It makes no sense to allow boats to travel downstream through the Locks and into Sebago Lake without being inspected. Some of these boats traveling through the milfoil infested Lower Songo River are bound to pick up milfoil and then carry it to their moorings in the shallow water areas of Sebago Lake.

After the drought of 1985, the marina community successfully lobbied for higher than normal lake levels for sustained periods, in order to prevent water levels from going more than 4 feet below the top of Eel Weir Dam from April 1 to November 1.

In the fifty year period prior to 1985, lake levels dropped 6 to 8.5 ft. below the top of Eel Weir Dam on average once every other year. It has not happened once since 1985. Eliminating the historic and natural variability in lake levels has prevented the Songo River from cleansing itself naturally.

In the past, when low lake and river levels were followed by a big rainstorm and/or spring run-off, the high flows in Lower Songo River would scour the river bed and carry off the vegetation and silt into the deep waters of Sebago at the mouth of the Songo River.

Boating interests have successfully lobbied the Maine DEP to establish a lake level management plan which would prevent these natural low water levels. In 1997, Maine DEP advocated, and the FERC approved, a lake level plan which has eliminated the historic and natural variability in water levels.

These folks got what they asked for, and they should pay the bill to dredge the river or ask the State to amend the lake level plan, so the river can once again cleanse itself naturally! Not only has the lake level plan prevented the River from cleansing itself naturally, it has accelerated shoreline erosion in the river from boat waves.

Downstream from Songo Locks the average spring and summer water levels in Lower Songo River are now one to two feet higher than normal. The waves from the 70,000 plus boats trips through the Locks are attacking the River’s shoreline at levels that in the past were accessible to wave action only a few weeks of the year, instead of 4 to 5 months. This has accelerated the historic rate of shoreline erosion and washed phosphorus laden shoreline soils into the river. The phosphorous is a nutrient and promotes milfoil growth.

In the early 1990’s milfoil was discovered in the Lower Songo River. With over 70,000 boat trips annually through the Locks, it should have been closed then and stayed closed until the milfoil had been eradicated. There are now over 25 sites in Sebago of rooted colonies of milfoil identified by Portland Water District in their 2008-2009 Annual Watershed Control Report. All of these areas are in shallow waters and a return to the historic low lakes levels, 6 to 8.5 ft. below the top of the Eel Weir Dam, would help to eradicate the milfoil in these areas. Low water levels in the fall would allow heavy frosts to kill these plants.

Low draw downs of water levels are an effective and economical way of ridding a water body of nuisance plants. By eliminating the historic and natural variability in water levels on Sebago Lake and Lower Songo River, the State has provided ideal conditions to promote the growth and spread of milfoil throughout Long Lake, Brandy Pond and Sebago.