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BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

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.

Thanks to support from Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and generous donors, our Continuous Monitoring Station collects data once an hour, every hour, year round.

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

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.”

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

As always, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been on the move, working across Casco Bay, the state—and the nation—on efforts to protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

A peek into her appointment calendar shows some of the highlights so far this year, as she continued to track Legislative issues and to comment on proposed wastewater and stormwater discharge permits that the Department of Environmental Protection issues to municipalities.

January

I became coordinator of the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) for 2018.

I will help coordinate research and advocacy on ocean acidification with a strong statewide network of policy makers, fishermen, shellfish growers, and scientists. This year-long role supports our work examining coastal acidification and excess nitrogen.

February

I invited Portland’s Water Resources Manager, Nancy Gallinaro, and Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, Scott Firmin, to travel with me to meet the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 Administrator, Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. We highlighted our joint efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, combined sewer overflows, and stormwater pollution to Casco Bay. I shared our data showing the impacts of climate change on Casco Bay.

Our Casco Baykeeper meets EPA Administrator Alex Dunn.

 

Administrator Dunn accepted our invitation to come to Maine in June to attend a meeting of the Maine Nutrient Council, a group convened by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Afterward, Administrator Dunn will tour the Bay on our Baykeeper boat, a great opportunity for a close-up view of issues that threaten the water quality of Casco Bay.

March

Senator Angus King greets fellow Mainers Bill Mook, Hattie Train, Ivy Frignoca, and Richard Nelson.

I traveled to Washington, DC, at the invitation of Ocean Conservancy, to meet with our Congressional delegation and ask for full funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. The measures we pressed for passed in the omnibus budget!

Back in Maine, I submitted comments opposing offshore drilling and then attended a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, to voice Friends of Casco Bay’s opposition to offshore drilling. I supported a resolve that was passed unanimously by our state legislature expressing its opposition to offshore drilling.

April

I testified at a public hearing as we worked to swiftly defeat a bill that would have practically eliminated the ability of municipalities to pass pesticide ordinances. If you contacted legislators after receiving our email alert about this issue, thank you! The bill was defeated!

I traveled to New Hampshire to attend a meeting of experts concerned about the rise in harmful algal blooms throughout the region, so we could learn more about new species appearing in Casco Bay.

May

I attended a meeting in West Bath, which drew together people who live and work along the New Meadows River, to discuss how expanding efforts in aquaculture may figure into the many uses of the estuary.

Research Associate Mike Doan gave Kate Simpson and Kayla McMurray, staffers for Senator Susan Collins, a ride to our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. I met them at our “Cage of Science” as we demonstrated how we use technology to monitor the Bay hourly, 365 days a year. We explained that though we do not receive funding directly from the EPA, the Agency has a vital role in advising state regulators on strategies to reduce pollution, funding other research, and enforcing the Clean Water Act. This work helps us all protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

June

The Portland Water District (PWD) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the massive, $12 million project that upgraded the aeration system at the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. This improvement could ultimately reduce nitrogen in the treated sewage released into the Bay by up to 1000 lbs. a day! PWD’s General Manager Carrie Lewis recognized our contribution “to understanding the issues affecting Casco Bay and make positive contributions towards collaborative solutions.”

The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.

The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.

With my colleagues in the MOCA Partnership, I hosted a workshop for nearly 60 scientists, harvesters, policy makers, and advocates on What We Know about Ocean Acidification and Maine’s Lobsters. The event at Bowdoin College featured current research on the effects of climate change on lobsters and emphasized the need for ecosystem-level, long-term studies.

As the year progresses, I look forward to continuing to keep you updated on the biggest issues affecting the health of the waters we all love.

Casco Bay begins in your backyard

Friends of Casco Bay has been a strong advocate for municipal ordinances to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals.

As the grass turns green, we are celebrating a series of milestones in our effort to protect the Bay from pesticides and fertilizers:

  • The City of South Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for private properties on May 1, 2018. As a resource for its residents, the City of South Portland launched an informative website and education plan on how to grow a healthy yard–even if you do not live in South Portland, you may find this resource useful: http://www.southportland.org/departments/sustainability-office/grow-healthy-south-portland/

  • The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2018 for city property and January 1, 2019 for private property.

  • With the help of Friends like you, we helped defeat bad bill in the state legislature that would have taken away the power of towns to pass ordinances to restrict the use of pesticides.

  • The Town of Falmouth is in the process of developing a pesticide and fertilizer ordinance.

We applaud the steps these communities are taking in order to protect public health and the health of the Bay! With the return of spring, be sure to use the BayScaping tips above to help grow green yards that keep Casco Bay blue. You can read more about BayScaping here.

Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District

Historic Agreement to Cut Nitrogen by 20-40%

Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District
Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District

Imagine if we could remove 500 to 1,000 pounds of excess nitrogen from the Bay each day. An historic effort by Portland Water District may do just that!

After nearly a year of work, the Portland Water District and Friends of Casco Bay developed an agreement aimed at reducing nitrogen pollution from sewage effluent. The collaboration helped the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develop a 139-page,
five-year permit for the City of Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility, which is managed by the Water District, that will better protect water quality. The permit was issued on March 22, 2017.

The $12 million upgrade to the plant’s aeration system may help reduce nitrogen in the plant’s effluent waters by 500 to 1,000 pounds each day!

The aim is to reduce nitrogen loading in the discharges from the plant by 20-40% within five years. This is the first wastewater discharge permit in Maine to address nitrogen levels and is now a model for other communities.

A History of Our Work to Reduce Nitrogen in Casco Bay
In 2007, Friends of Casco Bay helped persuade the Maine Legislature to pass a law requiring the Maine DEP to establish a limit on how much nitrogen may be discharged into coastal waters. Instead of following the Legislature’s lead, DEP has chosen to limit nitrogen permit by permit in Casco Bay. This had led Friends of Casco Bay to work with DEP, municipalities, and businesses, to help set realistic limits on nitrogen in Clean Water Act discharge permits issued to sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities.

We are working with the City of Portland on its Combined Sewer Overflow Remediation Project that will help reduce
nitrogen-laden sewage overflows into the Bay.

Our pumpout boat removes raw sewage—another source of nitrogen—from the holding tanks of recreational boats and transports, for onshore disposal. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Our BayScaping program works with residents and municipalities to help keep fertilizers and pesticides from polluting the Bay. We present BayScaping Socials to help neighbors reduce the use of lawn chemicals. With our support, South Portland passed an ordinance to restrict pesticide use, with an assurance to tackle fertilizers next. Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served on the Portland Pesticide Task Force as that city considers a similar ordinance.

Working With . . . the Portland Water District

Friends of Casco Bay’s Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District’s Scott Firmin forged an agreement that aims to significantly reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater released into Casco Bay from Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Major changes planned by the Portland Water District promise to help reduce the flow of nitrogen-laden wastewater in a big way. The effluent from 65,000 Portland residents, as well as visitors and commercial facilities in the city, passes through the East End Wastewater Treatment Plant. With a $12-million upgrade to the plant, the Portland Water District aims to reduce nitrogen in the effluent water by 20 to 40% within five years. That could prevent 500 to 1,000 pounds of nitrogen from getting into Casco Bay each day.

Nitrogen is found in sewage, animal waste, fertilizers, rainwater, snow melt, and air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Excess nitrogen in our coastal waters may lead to harmful algal blooms, slime-covered coves, and more acidic conditions, all of which stress our coastal critters.

Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, worked diligently for nearly a year on an agreement to reduce nitrogen in treated wastewater from the East End sewage treatment plant. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a five-year wastewater discharge permit for the plant that incorporates their recommendations. Friends of Casco Bay’s Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District’s Scott Firmin forged an agreement that aims to significantly reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater released into Casco Bay from Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility.

The Portland Water District plans to:

  • Work toward major reductions in nitrogen in the treated wastewater it releases into Casco Bay
  • Test nitrogen levels in its effluent water weekly to measure progress toward meeting the goal of a 20-40% reduction within five years
  • Collaborate with the City of Portland and other stakeholders in a coordinated effort to reduce nitrogen pollution from multiple sources

“We applaud the Portland Water District for its forward-thinking approach that may serve as a model for other Maine communities,” says Ivy. “We still need folks to pick up pet wastes and stop using fertilizers. Individual efforts help keep nitrogen pollution from getting into Casco Bay. What each of us does to help the Bay does make a difference!”

Nabbing Nitrogen results

Nabbing Nitrogen Flash Mob: What We Learned

Nabbing Nitrogen results
Nitrogen levels were high at every place we sampled. The highest levels of
nitrogen were found closer to land, in tidal creeks and near combined sewer
overflows. Lower nitrogen levels were found further from shore.

On Sunday morning, July 10th, 2016, at precisely 10:10 a.m., 97 people knelt down along the edge of Portland Harbor and scooped up small vials of water from Casco Bay. They were not praising Poseidon—they were Nabbing Nitrogen.

A recent heavy rain had flushed a surge of stormwater into the Fore River, so we were not surprised that
the analysis of their water samples found elevated levels of nitrogen. The most important takeaway of the event, though, was that there is an amazing Casco Bay community of volunteers ready and willing to get involved when we send out a call to action!