THUMBS DOWN to the reports of declining water quality in the Belgrade Lakes, which could lead to sudden, harmful algae blooms.

Fortunately, the Belgrade Lakes Conservation Alliance, the Maine Lakes Resource Center, Colby College and the landowner associations on the seven lakes and ponds that make up the Belgrade Lakes are working together to monitor lake quality, with an eye toward efforts to mitigate the problem.

Unfortunately, years of attention to declining water quality, in central Maine and elsewhere in the state, have not changed the downward course, and more aggressive approaches are very expensive.

The problem comes from increases in phosphorus that is washed into lakes, along with other pollutants and sediment. It is exacerbated by increased development around lakes, which takes away the trees, bushes and other natural protections, increasing erosion. Worsening storms and rising temperatures are not helping, either.

Phosphorus levels can build and build for years, without noticeable changes to the lake, until the it reaches a “tipping point,” causing sudden algae blooms that makes it difficult to see far in the water. When the algae dies, it can deplete oxygen in the water, harming fish and other organisms.

Maine has strong shoreland zoning and stormwater runoff laws to prevent this — though they aren’t always well-enforced — and excellent local lakes associations to keep an eye on water quality.

Still, water quality is declining. A University of Maine study showed lake water clarity declined steadily, particularly in northeastern and western lake regions, from 2005-10, matching evidence gathered by local groups.

That’s not good news for a resource that generates an estimated $3.5 billion a year statewide and sustains 52,000 jobs, in addition to providing a weekend respite and lifelong memories for so many Mainers.


THUMBS UP to the encouraging community response in the wake of the July 16 fire in downtown Gardiner.

As of Monday, around $13,000 had been raised to help the residents and businesses affected by the fire nearly two weeks ago, including nearly $7,000 from a silent auction held last weekend.

There is a lot still to determine about the fire, including how it started.

It also is not clear what will happen to the historic buildings that had their insides gutted by the fire. Tax credits may be available to help maintain the buildings’ facades, which would help maintain the character of Water Street and Gardiner’s downtown. But what to do with the buildings ultimately rests with the owners.

The fire also may have shined a light on the lack of sprinkler systems and code compliance in buildings like those in downtown Gardiner. Officials in Gardiner and Hallowell say they’ll take a look at the issue. Other communities should, too.

It will take significant amounts of time, effort and money to make the businesses and residents impacted by the fire whole again, and it will be a while before Gardiner returns to normal.

But the effort so far is a great start.

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