Thursday, May 16, 2013

Watts Offers Settlement on Sebago Lake Lawsuit

Doug Watts enjoying the 'beach' at Songo Beach, Sebago Lake State Park, August 2012. Photo by Roger Wheeler.

To: Friend of Sebago Lake
From: Doug Watts, Augusta, Maine. 

Roger Wheeler of Friends of Sebago Lake has sent out my Maine Superior Court appeal, filed May 8, 2013, for the Maine DEP water quality certification issued in August 2011 for the Eel Weir Dam at Sebago Lake. This U.S. Clean Water Act certification will legally control the health of Sebago Lake for the next 30-40 years. It's an important legal document.

What you might not know is that for many years FOSL and myself have been trying to amicably resolve the few outstanding issues at the dam and the lake with both the State and S.D. Warren. In 2011 a number of issues were resolved amicably, but several remained unsolved. These issues are putting in an inexpensive aluminum fishway at the Eel Weir Dam which can be used by native Sebago salmon; putting a reasonable amount of water back in the Eel Weir 'bypass' below the dam so native Sebago salmon can spawn and live in it; and allowing Sebago Lake to fall low enough in the fall and winter to allow for natural beach re-building and restoration.

Upon filing my court suit in December 2012 I wrote to the State and S.D. Warren's attorneys and asked them to sit down with me and try to resolve the few remaining issues at the dam instead of going to court. Both the State and Warren refused my offer to even have a single face-to-face meeting. This week, with my Superior Court pleading filed and completed, I have again extended to the State and S.D. Warren the same invitation to sit down and try to negotiate a mutually acceptable resolution and avoid a lengthy, expensive court case for all parties.

The actual 'defendant' in my Superior Court lawsuit is the Maine DEP, who issued the Clean Water Act certification. The MDEP is represented by the Maine Dept. of Attorney General. S.D. Warren, as the dam owner, is what is considered a 'party-in-interest' and have their own lawyers. If you are a Maine citizen, the Maine Dept. of Attorney General works for you. You are their employer. The Maine AG's office can decide tomorrow to sit down with me and try to work out a rational and reasonable outcome at Sebago which respects the law and protects the lake's health for the next 30-40 years. Since the AG's office works for you, the citizens of Maine, you can write and call and ask them to sit down and at least talk with me and see if we can at least try to reach a resolution which everyone can live with. The attorney assigned to this case is Assistant Attorney General Jerry Reid. His email address is:

I would invite you to write to Mr. Reid and ask him why the State of Maine and its Dept. of Attorney General  is not even willing to sit down with me for one hour and see if we can settle this case and save the State tens of thousands of dollars in court and lawyer's costs, all of which you will have to pay.

The key issues in the appeal are described in document  which Roger Wheeler distributed to you. I've further summarized the basic themes on FOSL's blog page at:

I sincerely believe that all of the outstanding issues at the Eel Weir Dam can be amicably resolved through negotiation -- if given the chance -- and at minimal cost to S.D. Warren. But for this positive and low-cost outcome to happen the State and S.D. Warren need to at least agree to sit down at the table with me and talk like normal human people do. This is all I am asking for. 

Thanks for your help and support, 

Doug Watts

P.S. My most recent settlement invitation to the State and S.D. Warren  is copied below: 


From: []
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2013 02:15 PM
To: 'Matt Manahan', ''Reid, Jerry'', '', 'Cathy Connors'
Subject: Re: Watts Pleading in BCD-AP-13-01

Jerry, Matt, Cathy -- The WQC reservations of authority for post-certification action by DEP for fish passage and for water quality could be used as post-certification vehicles to address the very specific issues raised in my appeal. This route would not require any amendment to the WQC itself, but could be conducted entirely post-certification as individual administrative actions under the certification as issued in August 2011. For this reason, I will again extend to both the State and S.D. Warren my interest in attempting to pursue a meaningful, negotiated resolution of the actual issues still at large through such a procedural vehicle.



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dry Spring Prevents Sebago Reaching Full Pond

An unusually dry April and May has caused Sebago Lake to remain more than a foot below its 'full pond' target of approx. 266.65 feet mean sea level (msl). From late April to early May the lake flattened out at 265.35 msl despite S.D. Warren allowing only the legally minimum flow from the Eel Weir Dam (15,000 cubic feet per minute or 250 cubic feet per second). Rainy weather on the weekend of May 11-12 has caused the lake to creep up about 1 inch but now has appeared to flatten out again. This rise corresponds closely to the amount of rain received over the weekend. 

The lake's behavior this spring illustrates a useful and basic lesson in lake hydrology. Simple logic dictates that when a lake is neither rising or falling, the amount of water entering the lake is about equal to the amount leaving the lake. But an additional factor is evaporation. Since we know that S.D. Warren is now releasing 250 cubic feet per second from the lake, if the lake level is not rising or falling, then we know that inflow to the lake minus evaporation from the lake's surface must equal its outflow. So we know that:

Inflow (I) -  evaporation (E) = 250 cfs (measured outflow).

Therefore, we know that inflow to the lake right now is somewhat higher than 250 cfs because some of the inflow is being lost to evaporation in the lake itself. On average, Sebago Lake loses 18 billion gallons of water to evaporation each year -- or nearly 50 million gallons a day -- depending on the weather, of course. To put this number in perspective, the average withdrawal of water from Sebago Lake for drinking water is about 24 million gallons per day. So, on an average day, Sebago Lake loses twice as much water from evaporation than from withdrawals by the Portland Water District for drinking water. Using PWD's estimates we can construct a basic water budget for the lake on an average daily basis:

Inflow = 544 million gpd (gallons per day).
Evaporation = 49 million gpd.
PWD drinking water withdrawal = 24 million gpd.

As these numbers show, the amount of water which directly exits Sebago Lake via the Presumpscot River is nearly 8 times larger than what is removed by evaporation and for drinking water. This also shows that PWD's drinking water withdrawals are inconsequential to the lake's water budget, totalling less than 5 percent of average daily inflow. Or to put it another way, the average outflow of Sebago Lake into the Presumpscot River is about 600 cubic feet per second (cfs). The PWD's daily withdrawal of water from Sebago Lake is equal to about 35 cfs.  So even if the PWD stopped taking any water from Sebago for drinking water, the outflow to the Presumpscot River would only increase by about 5 percent. 

So what does all this tell us? It tells us that inflow (ie. streamflow, groundwater inflow and precipitation) is what determines if Sebago Lake rises or falls. Evaporation and PWD's water withdrawals are fairly negligible -- and nothing can be done about evaporation anyways. Since late April, Sebago Lake has been close to equilibrium, with inflow and evaporation balancing the 250 cfs legal minimum outflow at the Eel Weir Dam. Absent a lot of precipitation in the next few weeks (ie. in the 8-10 inch range), Sebago Lake is not going to rise and will not hit its full pond 'target' of 266.65 feet. Is that a problem? No.

Natural lakes never hit the same 'full pond' height each and every year. The 266.65 msl 'full pond' height is an arbitrary, man-made number. This is for the same reason that rivers do not achieve the exact same flood height each and every year or the same low-water level each and every year. If S.D. Warren tried to raised the height of Sebago Lake now, its only option would be to drastically reduce outflows at the Eel Weir Dam, causing the Presumpscot River to go into an extreme and unnatural drought. This is because lakes do not naturally rise during dry weather any more than rivers do.