Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley met with folks for an early morning conversation about one of Casco Bay’s largest sources of pollution: stormwater.
Recent weather events are a reminder that stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Stormwater picks up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. It carries this toxic mix downstream and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems.
Ivy and Sara’s conversation over coffee focuses on the increasing impact stormwater has on Casco Bay and what Friends of Casco Bay is doing to help address this issue (sneak peek: it’s a lot!). They also share upcoming opportunities for you to use your voice to advocate for clean water. More than 110 Friends attended the event along with at least one reporter from the Portland Press Herald.
If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here.
As this year comes to an end, let’s reflect and celebrate the many ways that we worked together to protect the health of Casco Bay in 2023. Here are our top ten stories of the year:
1) We won a four-year moratorium on new sources of pollution into the lower Presumpscot River. The moratorium prevents the permitting of new industrial or wastewater discharges into the river near where it empties into Casco Bay. As the Presumpscot drains two-thirds of the Casco Bay watershed, this was a big win for our waters. Portland Press Herald wrote an in-depth story on this effort. Our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca won the Chief Poulin Award for her work on the moratorium. Ivy is shown here receiving the award from Friends of the Presumpscot River board member, Will Plumley.
2) More than 100 of our volunteer Water Reporters deepened their knowledge about Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters attended a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay this year. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up-to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.
3) The “Sensor Squad” is moving science forward for Casco Bay and all of Maine’s coastal waters. Good decisions are made using good data. Led, in part, by our Staff Scientist Mike Doan, the Sensor Squad is working to ensure we are using the most accurate climate change and acidification techniques and protocols we can. This work is a part of Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead the Collaborative.
5) We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater pollution from large urban communities. You may remember that we celebrated this stricter permit as our top story of 2022. Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Since the permit that regulates urban stormwater went into effect in July 2022, we have been working to ensure that it is properly implemented. In November, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection agreed with us that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must ensure that towns covered by the permit implement low-impact development ordinances that include nine strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment.
6) The City of South Portland launched 100 Resilient Yards, providing a grassroots way to bring best practices in yard care directly to neighborhoods around the city. Residents and businesses who took part in the program were given technical and physical assistance to build healthy soils that protect Casco Bay. Experts and volunteers helped residents build rain gardens, grow pollinator gardens, and more. We hope other towns around the Bay look at this program as a model!
7) We organized 15 fun coastal cleanups, including one with the surf rock band Easy Honey and one with the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. These cleanups gave community members a hands-on way to make a direct difference in the health of our waters by preventing waste and litter from being washed into the Bay.
8) We hired Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley! Over the past 10 months, Sara has become an integral part of our team. She’s helped deepen the knowledge of our Water Reporters, organized storm drain stenciling and coastal cleanups, and worked to expand our outreach efforts.
9) We helped organize an expired flare collection event in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Casco Bay and the Maine State Fire Marshall. The event was a great success, collecting 1,945 expired marine flares. Marine flares are pyrotechnic devices that boaters can use as a distress signal in emergencies. They burn at high temperatures, posing a serious fire hazard for long-term storage. Flares also contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate water and soil. Due to these hazardous qualities, it is illegal to throw flares in the trash, and ill-advised to store them at home.
What are some techniques for observing the natural world around me more mindfully? How can you tell if a saltwater marsh is healthy or if it is eroding at an unnatural pace? What are some commonly overlooked invasive species that are affecting Casco Bay? How is nitrogen pollution linked to the growth of large nuisance algal blooms?
This summer and fall, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Water Reporters found out the answers to these questions and more as we hosted a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay. More than 100 volunteers attended these special events. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up- to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.
“I am very grateful to Friends of Casco Bay for the wonderful learning opportunities they provide to me as a Water Reporter,” says volunteer Catherine Tarpy. “The events are free and give us a top-quality education about the current status and future of Casco Bay. One more thing, they’re so much fun!”
Volunteer Water Reporters take photos and observations of pollution, climate change, and ecological problems that are impacting Casco Bay. Volunteers also share observations of good news, such as rare wildlife sightings. Our staff receives notices of the posts, including latitude and longitude. Friends of Casco Bay staff then follow up with every post, which sometimes involves visiting the site of the post to further investigate.
“Our volunteer Water Reporters are on the front lines of climate change,” shared Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley. “They are tracking changes they are seeing and helping us be the eyes of the Bay. We are working to give these volunteers the opportunity to learn more about the biggest threats to our coastal waters and to deepen their knowledge of the Bay.”
Sara organized six Water Reporter training events from June through September. She also happens to be our newest staff member.
“We are excited to have Sara aboard,” said Executive Director Will Everitt. “We created her position to double-down on the idea that it takes a community to take care of the health of Casco Bay. Sara has jumped into the work with both feet!”
Although cold weather is beginning, our Water Reporter events will continue as our volunteers post their observations year-round. Friends of Casco Bay will host online events this winter.
Thank you to Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, L.L.Bean, Allagash Brewing Company, Ferris Olson Family Foundation for Ocean Stewardship, WEX, and our members for their support of our Water Reporter program.
Volunteer Water Reporters joined Friends of Casco Bay at six meetup and training events so far this year, including a season kickoff event, a salt marsh training, an invasive species training,a mindful observation event, and a stormwater training. Invasive training photo by Perry Flowers.
Stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Instead of filtering into the soil, water sheets off these impervious surfaces, picking up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. Stormwater carries this toxic mix into our rivers, streams, and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems. While stormwater pollution is very difficult to eliminate because it is so diffuse, one of the ways we are working to reduce this pollution is through improving how the state protects our waters from this threat.
Here is some good news as we work to reduce stormwater pollution: the Maine Department of Environmental Protection asked Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, our lead advocate, to serve on the Steering Committee revising Maine’s stormwater rules. These rules apply to large developments in all municipalities in Maine.
The Steering Committee contains twenty members tasked with identifying how the stormwater rules should be strengthened. Ivy’s work will be informed by her years of experience working to reduce stormwater pollution. The Steering Committee met for the first time in December 2023.
The stormwater rules as currently written are out-of-date. They apply only to large developments and miss a lot of the actual development and redevelopment in our watershed. The rules also do not require the use of low-impact development (LID) strategies, such as leaving buffers near streams. While they have some incentives for the use of LID techniques, those incentives rarely tempt developers. Also, as our climate changes, the rules must be revised to account for future increasing storm intensities and precipitation.
The next meeting of the Steering Committee will be in January 2024. To keep you up-to-date about this important process, Friends of Casco Bay will host an event in early 2024 about stormwater pollution, the revision process, how YOU can get involved, and, of course, why it matters for Casco Bay! More information will be sent via email. Sign up for our email list here.
Friends of Casco Bay works hard to reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Instead of filtering into the soil, water sheets off these impervious surfaces, picking up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. Stormwater carries this toxic mix into our rivers and streams, and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems.
While stormwater pollution is very difficult to eliminate because it is so diffuse, we are making progress on this threat by ensuring that the Clean Water Act permits that regulate stormwater are effectively implemented.
We have good news to share on this front. We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater discharged from large urban stormwater systems into our watershed through a successful appeal to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.
Late last year, the municipalities subject to this permit submitted their draft ordinances to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for approval. To comply with the MS4 permit, the ordinances should have included nine mandatory LID strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment. Although the drafts submitted by municipalities in our watershed did not contain all of these necessary elements, DEP approved the drafts.
To ensure the MS4 permit was properly implemented, we appealed DEP’s approval of the incomplete ordinances to the Board of Environmental Protection, a seven-member citizen board that provides independent decisions on the interpretation and enforcement of Maine’s environmental laws. This was our second appeal to the Board involving this MS4 permit, a decision that we did not take lightly but was needed to protect the Bay.
In November 2023, the Board of Environmental Protection agreed that DEP should not have approved the insufficient draft ordinances. The Board vacated the approvals and ordered DEP “to expeditiously set clear, specific, and measurable standards for the municipal LID ordinances.” The municipalities the order applies to include Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Freeport, Gorham, Portland, Saco, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham, and Yarmouth.
We will continue to participate in the process to be certain the redrafted ordinances contain all of the necessary elements.
Casco Bay is ever–changing. The Bay changes with each tide, each day, and each season. And now, because of climate change, our coastal waters are transforming in different ways and faster than we thought possible.
At our Ever–ChangingCasco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track the health of the Bay. Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley shared observational data our volunteer Water Reporters posted over the course of the summer. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca discussed how these scientific and observational data are helping to move the needle for a cleaner, more protected Casco Bay.
In November 2023, Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) gave our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the Chief Poulin Award, at their annual Three Sisters Dinner. Ivy was given the award for her work to bring together Bay lovers, river advocates, and legislators to pass a four-year moratorium on new discharges into the Presumpscot River, near where the river empties into Casco Bay. This legislation was a big win for the Bay and for the Presumpscot. Congratulations, Ivy! Friends of Casco Bay is proud to have FOPR as a partner in the watershed.
If you drive around South Portland these days, you may have noticed yard signs that read “100 Resilient Yards, Revitalizing South Portland One Yard At A Time.”
The residents and businesses who are proudly posting these signs took part in a forward-looking program that provided hands-on assistance to build healthy soils that protect Casco Bay. City of South Portland staff, experts, and volunteers helped those in the program grow resilient landscapes, including vegetable gardens, rain gardens, native plantings and pollinator gardens, and organic lawns.
The City of South Portland restricted the use of pesticides in 2016 and limited the use of synthetic fertilizers in 2020. To help residents comply with these ordinances, Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s Sustainability Director, conducted outreach and education throughout the pandemic. By 2021, recognizing that everyone was weary of workshops and Zoom meetings, Julie struck on a “grassroots” plan to bring best practices in yard care directly to neighborhoods.
The 100 Resilient Yards program was born.
When South Portland opened applications last spring, 430 people applied for the 100 slots. After site visits in May and June by organic landscaping professionals, 100 yards were selected. 89 people ultimately completed the pilot project.
Julie Rosenbach was delighted with the enthusiasm from the community. “People want to transition their yards to healthy, organic landscapes. They just need help getting started. With this program, we were able to help in spades.”
Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Will Everitt is pleased that a lot of those yards belong to Friends of the Bay. After all, it was Friends of Casco Bay’s BayScaping campaign, launched 20 years ago, that began to persuade residents and community leaders to rethink their use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Each participant in South Portland’s 100 Resilient Yards program received help to create a Bay-friendly landscape. Julie assembled teams of landscaping and gardening advisors and recruited two dozen volunteers to help homeowners. The recipients got material resources such as raised beds, seeds or starter plants, mulch, compost, native plants — and even apple trees on 26 sites. It was truly a hands-on effort. Julie recalls how she and volunteers hauled 456 bags of mulch to nearly 50 sites around the City.
Emily Rothman, a Friends of Casco Bay member who lives in Ferry Village, requested a vegetable garden. She met with a technical advisor who helped her mark out a suitable site. “While we were out, they delivered a raised bed and filled it with soil!” Emily used a coupon provided by 100 Resilient Yards to pick out young plants at a farm in Cape Elizabeth. Her five-year-old helps harvest their chard, kale, and lettuce. Her two-year-old loves to play in the soil in a corner of the garden reserved for digging.
Emily says, “I learned about things I should and shouldn’t do so close to the ocean. I love it when people come by and ask questions about the garden. It helps us feel like we are doing our part and that we have an investment in the South Portland community.”
Elizabeth Ross Holstrom, another Friend of the Bay, opted to put in a native flower garden. “As a 30-year resident of South Portland, who recently downsized to a small house with no backyard garden, I was thrilled to be selected for the South Portland 100 Resilient Yards initiative.”
Her backyard was completely gravel before the beds were installed. “I worked with several team members, from the initial photos and soil testing, and plan for a native flower bed. Mine was one of the last gardens because of the prep work needed before planting could be done. Lia Farnham and Brett at Sophia Garden Design were both super helpful in keeping things on track. It turned out lovely. I am excited to see everything come up next spring. With the plants they selected, the entire bed will be colorful, multi-tiered, and self-contained. The trimmings each fall will serve as mulch for the winter.”
“The City of South Portland’s 100 Resilient Yards program has gone beyond education to help residents grow green lawns and gardens that help keep Casco Bay blue,” says Will. “We hope other towns around the Bay look at this as a model for how municipal officials, master gardeners, residents, and businesses can all work together to build soil health and protect our coastal waters from nitrogen pollution and toxic lawncare chemicals.”
Julie Rosenbach notes, “Indeed, I’ve already had interest from other communities who would like to replicate the program.”
The roots of South Portland’s effort are directly linked to the work Friends of Casco Bay has done over the years. Our stormwater and water quality sampling demonstrated that lawncare pesticides and fertilizers threaten the health of the Bay. Pesticides are toxic by design. The excess nitrogen from fertilizers could trigger nuisance algal blooms and deplete oxygen levels in the water, degrading the health of our coastal waters.
Over the years, through our BayScaping efforts, Friends of Casco Bay encouraged residents to grow lawns without using harmful chemicals. By sharing our data on pesticides and nitrogen sampling, educating city councilors about the risks of lawn chemicals, and serving on citizen task forces, we helped municipalities, including South Portland, adopt ordinances to limit lawn chemicals.
Partners on the 100 Resilient Yards project include Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Audubon, Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District, Osborne Organics, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Wild Seed Project, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Garbage to Garden.
You can read more about 100 Resilient Yards by clicking here. You can find tips on chemical free lawns on Friends of Casco Bay’s website.
Many thanks to Mary Cerullo for writing this article for Friends of Casco Bay and to the City of South Portland for providing photos.
Good decisions are made using good data. That’s the idea behind the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative.
“The Collaborative is made up of some of the best saltwater scientists in Maine,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “By sharing research and knowledge of climate change science, water quality monitoring issues, and ocean climate policies, we can better protect all of our coastal waters.”
Ivy coordinates the Collaborative, which includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation, and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Processes Analysis Laboratory (OPAL), and Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve (Wells Reserve).
Staff Scientist Mike Doan (left photo) and Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon (right photo) are working with colleagues up and down Maine’s coast to improve our collective knowledge of how acidification and climate change may be affecting our waters.
A key part of the Collaborative’s current work is to develop a report of recommended equipment, sampling techniques, and quality assurance protocols to serve as a guide for researchers, agencies, and institutions up and down Maine’s coast to better monitor climate change and acidification. For this effort, Friends of Casco Bay Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely with colleagues from OPAL and Wells Reserve.
“We call ourselves the ‘Sensor Squad,’” says Mike. “Staff from Wells Reserve and Friends of Casco Bay are testing equipment and protocols in real-world conditions and comparing our data to OPAL’s gold standard. The goal is to ensure we are getting the most accurate climate change and acidification data we can. As the science evolves, we have to evolve, too.”
While the “Sensor Squad” may not look like superheroes, by working together, the scientists are helping improve Maine’s understanding of climate change.
“While our mission is all about Casco Bay, we recognize that climate change doesn’t stop at the watershed’s border,” says Executive Director Will Everitt. “The State of Maine can use our work as a model for what a statewide monitoring program can look like. When state agencies who are tasked with managing and protecting our marine ecosystems have better data, ultimately that helps Casco Bay and all of our coastal waters.”
Last Saturday’s Film Fest for Casco Bay was our most well-attended event of the year. As Executive Director Will Everitt said at the event, “This afternoon is about community.” We were able to share an afternoon with more than 350 Friends watching enlightening films, enjoying local food, and connecting with our mission to protect the health of Casco Bay. We were honored to share the stage with filmmaker Maximilian Armstrong, who joined us as our special guest at the event. Max created Seeds of Change, a film about an organic farmer in Maine who sets out to transform the prison food system. The film was an audience favorite.
Film Fest for Casco Bay was also our biggest fundraiser of the year. We send a special thank you to our Show Sponsors, including 98.9 WCLZ, TD Bank, Ocean Navigator, Custom Float Service, Dufour Tax Group, Martin’s Point Health Care, Portland Yacht Services/Portland Ship Yard, and Woodin & Company Store Fixtures, Inc. We appreciate all of our sponsors—you can see the complete list below.
There are so many people to thank for making this year’s Film Fest a success. Thank you to our volunteers for helping us host the event. Thank you to our raffle prize donors (see below). Thank you to the donors who helped us meet our $1,000 matching challenge at the event. And thank you to all the Friends who attended the event.
We are grateful to have Maine Outdoor Film Festival as our curating partner for this event. MOFF selected the 12 incredible films we showed at Film Fest for Casco Bay. If you are interested in seeing more of their films join MOFF for a special one-night only screening of Snow Day Dreams, an independent short film program that explores the dynamic cold weather living of Maine and beyond through 7 different stories at the State Theatre on December 14. This is an all-ages friendly event. Tickets are $10-20. For more information or specifics on the upcoming film programming please visit https://maineoutdoorfilmfestival.com/2023-snow-day-dreams/
Thank you to our raffle donors:
A&C Soda Shop ⋅ Black Point Surf Shop ⋅ Browne Trading Company ⋅ Kirsten and Charles Piacentini ⋅ Chase Leavitt Marine ⋅ Deborah Dawson ⋅ Edgecomb Potters ⋅ Eventide Oyster Co. ⋅ Gelato Fiasco ⋅ Go Go Refill ⋅ Hyperlite Mountain Gear ⋅ JoAnn Dowe ⋅ LeRoux Kitchen ⋅ Letterpress Books ⋅ Loyal Citizen Clothing ⋅ Malcolm F. Poole ⋅ Mexicali Blues ⋅ Ocean Navigator ⋅ Old Port Candy Co. ⋅ Portland Schooner Company ⋅ Portland Water District ⋅ Pretty Flours ⋅ Rocky Coast Cheesecake ⋅ Rosie’s ⋅ Sea Bags ⋅ Sebastian Milardo ⋅ Sherman’s Books ⋅ Skillin’s Greenhouses ⋅ The Cheese Shop of Portland ⋅ Thompson’s Point / Northern Hospitality ⋅ Toad&Co ⋅ Wildwood