35th Anniversary logo for Friends of Casco Bay

A Watershed Year at Friends of Casco Bay

A watershed is an area of land that drains rainwater, snowmelt, and any other sources of water through a system of streams and rivers to a low point like a lake, bay, or sea. The Casco Bay watershed includes parts of more than 41 towns and cities, and the hundreds of Calendar Islands. While the Casco Bay watershed comprises only 3% of land in Maine, it is home to one in five Mainers. (Photo: Casco Bay Estuary Partnership)

Dear Friends of the Bay,

Where does Casco Bay begin? Where does it end?

Looking at a nautical chart, you can trace a defined line between the Bay’s coastal boundaries, from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Small Point in Phippsburg. It is a little harder to trace the watershed, the basin of rivers and streams that wind their way to the Bay.

Here at Friends of Casco Bay, we see the Bay through the lens of our mission: to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

Imagine you are standing in Bethel, Maine, more than fifty miles from the coast. You turn on a spigot and watch as water rushes over the ground. From there, that water would slowly make its way downhill, eventually joining one of the many streams and rivers that flow all the way to Casco Bay. The health of the Bay is directly tied to the health of the waters that feed it, to the watershed as a whole.

This lens is apparent in much of our work in 2022. Stormwater comes from the entire watershed and is one of the largest sources of pollution into the Bay. Stormwater washes pesticides, fertilizers, oil, road salt, and more into our streams, rivers, and coastal waters. After years of advocacy, we cheered in July when major policy updates went into effect that will reduce stormwater pollution into Casco Bay.

Taking another view inland, the Presumpscot River drains two-thirds of the Bay’s watershed. The healthier this river is, the healthier the Bay will be. This year, we deployed continuous monitoring equipment to measure the health of the Presumpscot River. The data is being used by Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, Staff Scientist Mike Doan, partner organizations, and government decision makers to assess what can be done to improve the river’s health, now and into the future.

Executive Director Will Everitt spoke about new protections that will reduce stormwater pollution in Maine at our celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act in July. From our victory addressing stormwater pollution this summer, to Friends’ first advocacy success in 1990 when the Bay was recognized as an Estuary of National Significance, the Clean Water Act has long been at the core of our advocacy to improve and protect the health of Casco Bay.

2022 has also been a watershed year as we have marked milestones. We relaunched our Pumpout Program, keeping more than 11,000 gallons of sewage out of the Bay this boating season. Our cadre of volunteer Water Reporters now tops 400. At our Nabbing Nitrogen community science event, 165 volunteers got their hands wet collecting water samples from Portland Harbor to analyze for nitrogen pollution. This year also marks our 30th year collecting water quality data and our first full-year of having three Continuous Monitoring Stations in the Bay.

In many ways, the greatest watershed moment of 2022 is one that all Mainers can be proud of: the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Authored by Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, this landmark environmental law has made our coastal waters cleaner and healthier. This year we celebrated clean water and the Act that protects it.

Amidst these celebrations and watershed moments, we also experienced the impacts of climate change. 2022 was another year of warmer marine waters, widespread drought, and more. Unlike the many challenges we have faced, climate change knows no boundaries, including those of the Bay and its watershed. As scientists tell us that impacts like these will continue to mount, our work at Friends of Casco Bay becomes ever more crucial. Whether we are advocating to address the causes of climate change at every level of government, or responding to its impacts right here in Casco Bay, a healthy Bay is a resilient Bay, and we are doing everything we can to keep Casco Bay blue.

Through it all, we were reminded of why we do this work: what happens to water happens to us. With each passing year it feels more important than ever to carry this knowledge from our hearts out into the world we live in. That is why we appreciate you and all the Friends of the Bay that make this work possible, both along the coast and up the watershed. Together we are protecting the health of the waters we all love.

Will Everitt
Executive Director