The meaningful observations by hundreds of Volunteer Water Reporters are making a difference for the health of Casco Bay, especially during COVID-19.
Casco Bay encompasses 200 square miles of water, has more than 578 miles of shoreland from Cape Elizabeth to Phippsburg, and includes hundreds of islands.
To help keep an eye on the health of the Bay, Friends of Casco Bay depends upon a network of more than 200 volunteer Water Reporters.
“Water Reporters have been invaluable during this pandemic,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the lead advocate for Friends of Casco Bay. “These volunteers work on their own, practicing social-distancing, but are not socially distant from the waters that inspire them. We use their observational data to identify and work to eliminate sources of pollution to the Bay.”
Using a specially designed app developed by Chesapeake Commons for Waterkeeper organizations, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteers post observations of nitrogen pollution, nuisance algal blooms, sea level rise, wildlife sightings, and other changes they are seeing in and around the Bay. Volunteers in the network have collectively posted more than 1,400 observations of the Bay.
Friends of Casco Bay is committed to responding to every post and to ensuring appropriate follow-up, including with state agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), as needed.
As Portland Harbormaster Kevin Battle explains, “The sooner we find out about a problem, the sooner it can be addressed. Water Reporters help communicate issues that we can look into and try to fix.”
Volunteer Jeff Walawender’s photo of an algal bloom along Pleasantdale Cove in South Portland is one of many important posts shared this summer. Tracking large algal blooms can help Friends identify sources of excess nitrogen. An overdose of nitrogen can trigger excessive growth of nuisance algae, which smothers animals that live in mudflats, reduces water clarity, lowers oxygen levels, and causes acidic conditions that make it harder for clams and mussels to build and maintain their shells.
See Jeff’s post here: https://www.waterreporter.org/community/reports/14419
In response to this bloom, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca met with South Portland officials and Portland Harbor Master Kevin Battle, talked with the Department of Environmental Protection staff, and collected water samples to identify potential sources of nitrogen that could have fertilized the excessive bloom.
“Thanks to Jeff, we had weekly photos tracking the development of the bloom and could see how much it grew after a major rainstorm caused large flows of stormwater to discharge to the Cove,” says Frignoca. “We then met with City officials and collected water samples from stormwater outfall pipes and tributaries to help us better understand what may have caused this bloom.”
Fred Dillon, Stormwater Program Coordinator for the City of South Portland, is reassured by the large army of volunteers focusing on the Bay. “It’s great knowing that Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteers are helping keep an eye on things that affect our coastal waters,” he says.
And Jeff Walawender likes being able to help. “It feels good to be part of the solution,” he says. “I have this phone in my pocket all the time, and it’s great that in just a few seconds I can snap a photo that can make a difference. One of the greatest features of Water Reporter is that not only does it track events like nuisance algae blooms, but it can also be used to document positive changes such as the return of wildlife and vegetation.
Friends of Casco Bay’s mission is to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our Water Reporter project is funded in part by our members, which include 2,400 households around the Bay, as well as by local businesses including L.L.Bean, Dale Rand Printing, and Sprague Energy, and foundations including Bonnell Cove Foundation, Davis Conservation Foundation, and Maine Community Foundation.