WILTON — A survey set for Saturday on a trio of local water bodies, including the source of the town’s drinking water, is part of a long-term effort to monitor and improve their quality.

The goal of the survey — involving Wilson Lake, Varnum Pond and Pease Pond — is to help identify areas of erosion within the watershed that could possibly contribute to declining levels of water clarity that have been detected over recent years.

A group of more than 40 volunteers, including University of Maine at Farmington students, and 10 technical consultants will conduct the survey of the approximately 35-square-mile watershed on Saturday. They’ll fan out around the water bodies, observing areas of erosion and taking notes.

Varnum Pond is Wilton’s source of drinking water.

“It’s a very big undertaking,” said Rob Lively, president of the Friends of Wilson Lake organization.

Friends of Wilson Lake, a nonprofit organization aimed at protecting and preserving the lake and its watershed, worked to bring the survey to fruition and has brought the company Ecological Instincts on board to lead the survey. A survey of this particular watershed area has not been conducted since 1994. Lively said to better monitor the state of a lake or pond’s watershed, these types of surveys should be conducted about every 10 years.

The $8,000 survey is being funded by a combination of grants and money Wilton residents voted to use at Town Meeting in March. Town Manager Rhonda Irish said that initially when the Friends of Wilson Lake approached the board of selectmen, the survey was only going to include the watershed around Wilson Lake. Selectmen then asked if Varnum and Pease ponds could be included in the survey, and voters approved appropriating $2,000 to the survey.

“The ponds and lakes in Wilton are very important to the community,” Irish said.

A watershed is the area around a body of water where the water that accumulates on land could potentially make its way into the pond or lake. If erosion, or other of sources of pollution, are prevalent within a watershed, the water clarity of a lake or pond is adversely affected, according to Dan Buckley, a biology professor at UMF.

Through erosion, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are abundant in ground soil, make their way into bodies of water. When these nutrient levels become too high within a lake or pond, water clarity declines and algae blooms can occur, Buckley said. In extreme cases, algae blooms can absorb too much oxygen within the body of water and cause the death of fish.

The trend of declining water clarity over the last five or six years has put Wilson Lake on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s statewide list of lakes to watch, according to Lively.

Across the state, water clarity levels average about 4.5 to 5 meters deep, Buckley said. He said Wilson Lake’s water clarity level is dipping below this average.

“The deeper into the water that you can see the better,” Buckley said. “(In Wilson Lake) transparency has been declining for a few years.”

Volunteers will break into teams Saturday to survey the watershed by car and on foot, identifying areas of erosion on people’s property or along roadways. Buckley said erosion is more common in developed and residential areas of a watershed because in forested areas run-off water is trapped in the root system of forest floors and vegetation. Areas of concern on residential properties could be a gravel driveway that does not divert water back into a forested area, he said.

Once the survey is complete, the findings will be ranked by priority, and technical consultants involved with the study will make recommendations for correcting the discovered problem areas. By having an updated survey, the Friends of Wilson Lake will be able to apply for grants that can be used to address the erosion areas.

A group of 15 biology and environmental science students from UMF will be participating in conducting Saturday’s watershed survey. The students are from Buckley’s aquatic biology class, which focuses specifically on lakes. Buckley said the opportunity to participate in the survey will allow students to see the real life applicability of what they are learning in the classroom.

“Sometimes students take courses and don’t see the immediate impact or benefit,” Buckley said. “They will be working with professionals. They’ll be taking part and learning to do this process.”

The Friends of Wilton Lake sent out letters to more than 700 property owners within the watershed, alerting them that the survey would be conducted. Out of that group only 20 or so individuals said they would not like their property to be included in the survey, Lively said.

“I think most people want to see it done because they want to see the quality of the lake improve,” Lively said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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