Bird watchers Don Mairs, left, and Bob Lewis, both of Belgrade, carry spotting scopes while birding Tuesday at Messalonskee Lake in Belgrade. The conservation group 7 Lakes Alliance has launched a two-year project to curtail erosion along the lake that could result in algae blooms that foul the water. Officials say correcting the water quality following an algae bloom can cost millions of dollars. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

BELGRADE — The 7 Lakes Alliance conservation group has launched a two-year project that aims to protect the water quality of Messalonskee Lake by reducing erosion that allows sediment and phosphorus to sweep into the lake.

The aim is to protect the health of the lake, which extends southwest from Oakland down to Belgrade, and prevent problems like algae blooms that have afflicted other parts of the Belgrade Lakes watershed, such as North Pond.

Messalonskee Lake, also known as Snow Pond, is one of seven that constitute the Belgrade Lakes.

“As (Messalonskee) lake has become more developed with homes and camps along the shoreline, it creates more erosion, it creates more runoff, and that leads to the degradation of water quality,” said Anthony Wilson, the director of communications and operations for the alliance, which is a nonprofit focused on preserving and protecting the Belgrade Lakes.

Wilson said there are 18 roads and gravel driveways around Messalonskee that, due to erosion and stormwater runoff, are leaching dirt containing phosphorus into the water.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant life but when there is too much of it in water it can speed up something called eutrophication, which causes a dense growth of plant life and depletes oxygen levels. A bloom subsides once the algae consumes the available phosphorus.


A bloom reduces the water’s transparency, emits a foul odor and produces potentially dangerous toxins, according to Linda Bacon, a lake biologist who works for Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.

Messalonskee Lake has never had an algae bloom but Bacon said Salmon Lake along with North Pond have in recent years. And last year at Webber Pond in Vassalboro, biologists detected low amounts of a lethal neurotoxin called Anatoxin, she said.

Aside from being a health hazard, algae blooms can also be economically ruinous for a region.

“(The Belgrade region) lakes draw lots of visitors, tourists and seasonal residents,” Wilson said. “There aren’t many folks who are going to want to come to a lake (if it looks like) split-pea soup and the water smells bad.”

Erosion control projects like the two-year one 7 Lakes has begun are crucial in preventing blooms, Bacon said.

“The old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ definitely applies as far as lakes are concerned,” she said.


Messalonskee Lake has an area of about 5.5 square miles and Bacon said treating the water after an algae bloom would probably cost $3 million to $4 million.

The alliance hopes to avoid that from happening by using a nearly $112,000 federal grant for the erosion-control measures along the 18 roads and driveways. The effort also includes implementing similar measures at a dozen homes along the shoreline.

Wilson said the work on the roads will include regrading and recrowning them, while also installing culverts to make sure water flow is being controlled.

Another group the alliance works with, Friends of Messalonskee, will host two workshops this summer to help residents take steps to maintain water quality.

Bacon said the need for the kind of project launched by the alliance will only keep growing. Due to the changing climate, Maine now has six to eight warmer months a year as opposed to three or four, she said. Additionally, as more development occurs around Maine’s natural resources, soil is turned up and gets into the water, carrying nutrients with it.

“Concerns are going to increase,” she said.

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