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Water Reporters Spur Actions to Protect the Bay

July 26— The Day the Poop Hit the Bay

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

On July 26, 1.69 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater overflowed from Portland’s East End Sewage Treatment Facility into Casco Bay. This story made the news and captured our attention. That same day, 9.85 million gallons of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), containing raw sewage and toxic chemicals, also entered the Bay. Not a single news outlet reported that fact.

So while swimmers—especially those preparing for the Peaks to Portland Swim—worried about the impact of the partially-treated discharge from the East End plant (wastewater that had already had solids removed and been chlorinated to kill bacteria), we worried about the close to 10 million gallons of a far more toxic slurry that entered the Bay.

On that day, the combined sewer overflow at Mackworth Street discharged 824,000 gallons of untreated water and the CSO at Dartmouth Street discharged 833,000 gallons into Back Cove. The India Street CSO discharged 415,000 gallons and the Long Wharf CSO released 563,000 gallons of untreated water into Portland Harbor.

Polluted water gushes into Casco Bay from a combined sewer overflow beneath Portland’s busy waterfront.
Photo credit: Dave Laliberte

What is a Combined Sewer Overflow?
Combined sewer systems are relics of the past that we are still using today. In Portland and many cities across the county, these systems were designed to collect—and combine— sewage and stormwater in the same pipes. Most of the time, the pipes transport all the collected wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged into a body of water. But when we experience heavy rains or snowmelt, the runoff entering the system exceeds the capacity of the pipes. When the pipes fill to certain levels, these antiquated systems are designed to dump a mix of stormwater, untreated waste, toxic materials, and debris directly into the ocean, or into nearby streams and rivers that flow into the Bay.

These periodic discharges are far more concerning to us than a one-time breach at the East End facility. For over 25 years, Friends of Casco Bay has been pushing the City to eliminate these combined sewer overflows. We are very supportive of Portland’s current work to separate combined pipes, build storage tanks, and eliminate CSOs. Over the next two years, as Casco Baykeeper, I will represent Friends of Casco Bay as a member of the stakeholder team that helps shepherd a process called integrated planning, which will enable the City to meet these objectives efficiently and in ways that best improve water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency created the integrated planning approach to help municipalities such as Portland meet multiple Clean Water Act requirements by identifying efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs and sequencing investments so that the highest priority projects come first. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and provide multiple benefits that enhance community vitality.

We will continue to participate, as we have for over 25 years, to help ensure that these combined efforts achieve more effective and timely improvements in water quality in Casco Bay.

 

What you can do to reduce stormwater and sewage pollution

  • Support communities’ efforts to upgrade their wastewater and stormwater systems.
  • Employ “green solutions” to reduce stormwater runoff from our own properties:
    • install permeable pavement on driveways and patios, so water percolates into the soil below
    • reduce the size of the lawn; plant shrubs and ground cover, which hold water better then turf
    • use rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs
    • Boaters should use shoreside bathroom facilities or pumpout services to keep raw sewage out of the Bay.
      Our pumpout boat operates from Memorial Day to Halloween. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Water Reporters watch out for Casco Bay all year long

Water Reporter Volunteers are important to our Baykeeping efforts!

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca acts as the eyes, ears, and voice of the Bay. She is on or along the water almost daily, but she can’t be everywhere. Ivy says, “We rely on volunteers to report conditions around the Bay. The Water Reporter App really helps those efforts because we instantly receive a photo that records the location and time. We can then use the app to respond and let you know what actions we took.”

Volunteers began signing up as Water Reporters in early August. More than 30 volunteers have signed up around the Bay and have posted many observations with us.

For example, Morrigan shot this image of a gull sitting on a dead harbor sea near Bangs Island. We then promptly shared this information with Marine Mammals of Maine.

In Water Reporter, hashtags are used to categorize images and Morrigan used #wildlife for this image.


In another example, Ivy took photos of an algal bloom in South Portland near Forest City Cemetery, using #algae. These photos add to our understanding of potential sources of excess nutrient loading in the area.


Morrigan provided a close-up of the thick algal mat there.

And we like to get good news, too:

Rick reported new growth of eelgrass beds sprouting along the shoreline of Great Diamond Island.


Mark reported on #wildlife of a great blue heron and egrets taking flight in Maquoit Bay.

The Water Reporter app collects all of our observations in one place in an organized and searchable way. We are so excited about the ability of this tool to record what’s happening around our beautiful but changing Bay—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We are looking for more observers to share photos of things they are seeing on the Bay all year long. If you are interested, you can join our Water Reporter network here.

Identifying the area of the Bay where you took the photo and categorizing the image with a hashtag, such as #algae, #pollution report, #trash, #wildlife, and #erosion, makes it easier for us to search for similar occurrences around the Bay.

See sea critters and our Cage of Science

Watch this short video about the Cage of Science!

You may know that Friends of Casco Bay’s Continuous Monitoring Station—AKA our “Cage of Science”—gives us vital data about the health of the Bay. But did you also know that observations of what sea life is growing on and hanging out in the station also give us important information about conditions of our waters? In this video, Research Associate Mike Doan shows us some of the sea critters that visited the Cage of Science in August.

Do you know what color Casco Bay is?

Pop quiz: Can you figure out which of these photos is of Casco Bay?

The correct answer is B—but on any given day or part of the Bay, Casco Bay could look like any of these three pictures.

Why does it matter? Water color can be an important indicator of the environmental health of our waters.

For example, the bluish-green water from Casco Bay in the middle photo above was measured as 6 on the Forel-Ule scale. This tells us that the water color is dominated by phytoplankton, but also that some dissolved matter and some sediment may be present, which is typical for areas towards the open sea.

Image A is of water in the Caribbean and is a 2 on the scale—indigo blue with high light penetration. These waters have often low nutrient levels and low production of biomass.

Image C is from Lake Michigan and is a 18 on the scale. Brownish green to cola brown colors indicate waters with an extremely high concentrations of organic and inorganic compounds, which are typical for rivers and estuaries.

You and Friends of Casco Bay have joined a worldwide effort to better understand how our waters may be changing—by observing water color. The images above are photos taken by volunteers like you and have become part of a worldwide catalog of water color.

Since we launched our Color by Numbers pilot project using the EyeOnWater app three months ago, 178 people have signed up to measure the color of Casco Bay. The map of Casco Bay below shows where volunteers have taken 387 color measurements on their smartphones and tablets.

You can add more data to the map!

You are helping us learn more about the environmental health of Casco Bay. The data you collect, using the EyeOnWater app on your smartphone, will become part of a worldwide catalog of water color. The more measurements collected, the more our understanding of the Bay improves.

We look forward to keeping you posted about what we are learning.

For even more about the effort, see:

News Center Maine’s story about Color by Numbers: https://www.newscentermaine. com/article/news/local/this- app-is-changing-the-way- mainers-can-detect-water- pollution/97-581638282/

Maine Public’s coverage: http://www. mainepublic.org/post/ smartphone-app-s-helping- beachgoers-help-casco-bay# stream/0

Help us see the Bay in a New Way

As you may know, Friends of Casco Bay has joined a worldwide effort to better understand how our waters may be changing—by observing water color.

Since we launched our Color by Numbers pilot project three months ago, 178 of you have signed up to measure the color of Casco Bay. The map of Casco Bay above shows where you have taken 387 color measurements on your smartphones and tablets.

For more than a century, marine scientists have used the Forel-Ule color scale—an index of 21 colors—from blue to greenish blue to yellow to brown—to measure color as a revealing indicator of the health of our oceans, and to document the color of oceans and lakes.

Scientists at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor have observed that the water color of the Gulf of Maine has become yellower over the last century. They are concerned that this color shift may be caused by suspended particles, which can block sunlight that marine plants need to grow, and which may transport pollutants from the land.

Until we launched Color by Numbers, not much color data had been collected in Casco Bay.

Left: Color data in Casco Bay in January 2018 before we launched our Color by Numbers pilot project. Right: Scores of volunteers are helping us fill the map with color measurements.
You are helping us add more data to the map!

Thank you for helping us all learn more about the environmental health of Casco Bay! The more measurements collected, the more our understanding of the Bay improves.

We look forward to keeping you posted about what we are learning.

Become a Water Reporter and report what you see on Casco Bay

Want to get outside, take photos that may help protect the health of Casco Bay, and connect with other community members?

We invite you to join our new volunteer Observing Network, Water Reporter, an exciting way to share what you see around the Bay.

In 2016 and 2017, we saw a concerning increase in the number and extent of nuisance and harmful algal blooms in Casco Bay. Large mats of algae covered tidal flats, smothering animals underneath the mats, preventing juvenile clams from settling, and increasing the acidity of the sediment.

This summer and fall, we continue to be on the lookout for nuisance, green algal outbreaks—and we need your help!

Join Water Reporter now.

For this project we are asking you to take photos of the Bay to document algal bloom events, water pollution and trash, shoreline erosion, and marine wildlife sightings. Through the Water Reporter app, your photos will be shared with Friends of Casco Bay, as well as with other observers. You will be able to see and comment on others’ posts and get an idea of what is going on around the Bay.

Each submission is displayed on a map and posted to individual, organization, and watershed feeds. To keep you in the loop, you will receive email notifications every time someone comments or takes action on your report.

In order to be a Water Reporter volunteer:

  • You will need a smartphone (iPhone or Android) or a tablet (iPad or Android tablet).
  • Create an account on the Water Reporter app and join the Friends of Casco Bay group.
  • Be willing to take photos of the Bay and share them on the app along with their location.
What you need to know:
  • Each photo you submit will provide a better understanding of conditions in the Bay.
  • Friends of Casco Bay is especially interested in tracking algal blooms as they occur, so if you come across one, be sure to share a photo along with the hashtag #algae.
  • For other reports please use hashtags like #trash #erosion #pollutionreport or #wildlife in the photo caption to improve search and categorization of your report for the community and Friends of Casco Bay.

What’s the big deal with green algae?

In the marine environment, nitrogen jumpstarts the growth of algae and phytoplankton, tiny plants that form the base of the ocean food chain, which in turn nurture zooplankton, clams, oysters, crabs, lobsters, fish, and whales. But too much nitrogen may trigger large blooms of nuisance algae or “green slime,” which can reduce water clarity and lower oxygen levels, making life harder for marine organisms. These nuisance algal blooms may be triggered by excess nitrogen from fertilizers, sewage, pet wastes, and emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks. For more information on excess nitrogen and green algae visit https://www.cascobay.org/our-work/science/nuisance-algal-bloom-tracking/.

We hope you will join our observing network and help us keep an eye on the Bay we all share and love!

Map of Water Reporter Observations

Coastal Cleanup at Bug Light Park for International Coastal Cleanup Day

Join us at Bug Light Park for International Coastal Cleanup Day!

When: Saturday, September 15, 2018, 9 AM – Noon

Where: Bug Light Park

Questions? Email Sarah at slyman [at] cascobay [dot] org

Do you want to help keep Casco Bay clean? Volunteer to help out at our public coastal cleanup!

Trash is an unsightly blight that makes it hard for everyone to enjoy a special place like Casco Bay. Litter and marine debris on our shores come from many sources. Careless beach goers, boaters, fishing vessels, and other ships can leave trash behind. Stormwater washes trash from yards and parking lots into storm drains that empty into Casco Bay.

When you volunteer to help us with a cleanup, you are:

  • Collecting data on the types and size of materials removed
  • The data is then used locally and internationally for marine debris advocacy efforts
  • Making our shores cleaner and safer
  • Ensuring our coast is a place people can go to recreate and relax
  • Helping protect wildlife
  • Supporting the local economy as our coast is part of Maine’s brand; it as an ideal tourist attraction that creates a stream of revenue that supports our community
  • Protecting our quality of life

Tending Portland’s public spaces without pesticides

On July 1, Portland’s Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for public properties. (In January, 2019, restrictions on applying synthetic pesticides on private property will go into effect.)

We asked City Arborist Jeff Tarling how the Parks Department may manage the City’s 721 acres of parks, playgrounds, trails, fields, and cemeteries differently. “This ordinance gives our staff opportunities to manage nature respectfully, to preserve and adapt to nature, rather than trying to control it.” Mowing high, replacing lawn with meadow, and planting native shrubs and trees are actions Jeff recommends for public and private properties.


Removing invasive plants mechanically, not chemically, is a hands-on approach Jeff endorses. Jeff showed Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell a long row of native trees and shrubs that students from King Middle School had just planted as a coastal buffer along the Back Cove parking lot. As he talked, he couldn’t resist pulling out invasive bittersweet that was overtaking other vegetation along the path.

Jeff explained that the Parks Department has assembled a “watch list” of invasive plants in their parks, which they plan to remove by hand over time, not by spraying with pesticides.

Cathy was a member of the task force that helped to shape the pesticide ordinance. She says, “As the whole community becomes more aware of the need to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, it will reduce the likelihood that lawn chemicals will move off the landscape and into the Bay.”