AUGUSTA — A cold, stiff wind blew and loons looked on as an ungainly barge laden with rows of plastic chemical tanks trekked back and forth across Togus Pond Thursday. The barge and tanks laid down a chemical treatment, released behind the craft in roughly 30-foot-wide, green-tinged swaths.

The aluminum sulfate mixture, pulled from two 7,000-gallon tanks sitting shoreside next to a residence and replenished by several tractor-trailer loads a day, is meant to bind with and capture phosphorus in the water column and on the lake bottom.

The phosphorous is a source of nutrients for algae that, when it blooms in hot summer months, can turn the water green and stinky — and in extreme cases even render it toxic.

By capturing the phosphorous that’s already in Togus Pond, the goal is to deny the algae its food source and prevent unpleasant — and, for the lake, unhealthy — algae blooms for the next 15 to 20 years.

That algae has helped put Togus Pond on the Maine Impaired Lakes Priority List. Members of the Worromontogus Lake Association hope the alum treatment will help it leave that designation behind.

Phosphorus is a common element in fertilizers and organic wastes and can be washed into bodies of water from surrounding properties via erosion and runoff. According to a report from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the phosphorus in Togus Pond comes predominantly from runoff from development near the lake.


The work of the barge, from SOLitude Lake Management, is monitored both from the shoreline, to watch for any effects on fish and other wildlife, and by a scientist in a boat from Lake Stewards of Maine, who is testing treated water to make sure its pH levels remain safe. The chemical mixture can be altered if pH levels are off, with the goal of keeping the lake’s acidity levels neutral.

Officials and volunteers reported Thursday that the roughly $400,000 chemical treatment process was going well. It wasn’t having any negative impact on wildlife, and was expected to result in a cleaner lake, they said.

Doug Miller, vice president of the lake association and a water engineer who volunteers monitoring the water quality of the popular lake, said the alum latches onto any phosphorus in the water column, binding it and taking it to the bottom. It also latches onto other sediments in the water, taking them down, too, making the lake clearer.

Some summers, algae blooms have turned Togus Pond so green it looked like pea soup, said Sarah Fagg, chairwoman of the Togus Pond Restoration Committee and a lake association board member.

The SOLitude Lake Management barge spreads aluminum sulfate, or alum, Thursday on Togus Pond in Augusta. The alum binds with phosphorus in the lake, taking away a food source for algae, which can turn the lake green and harm water quality when it blooms. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The algae harms the lake’s aesthetics, making it unattractive, and sometimes giving it an unpleasant odor. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, can be toxic to dogs, or anything drinking it. And, Miller said, when the algae dies and decomposes, it depletes the water of oxygen, harming water quality.

Fagg said alum has been used for decades to contain phosphorus in water bodies and has been proven safe. She said SOLitude has applied the treatment in hundreds of lakes.


The lake association raised the $400,000 for the first of two alum treatments, with $325,000 of that coming from lakeside property owners.

The project also received $30,000 from Kennebec Savings Bank, $20,000 from the city of Augusta, and $17,000 in community donations.

Rick Tufts, who offered his pontoon boat to take media and others out on the lake to see the process, said he’d only lived on the lake for about a year but joined the effort to fight against algae as soon as he learned of it. He said swimming amongst algae can leave your skin itchy.

“When I heard about this I was all-in,” Tufts said. “Our community has really rallied big time for this.”

The SOLitude Lake Management barge refills tanks with aluminum sulfate, or alum, from large onshore tanks Thursday at Togus Pond in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lakefront resident Phil Doyon allowed the chemical tanks to be placed in his yard for the project, in a spot providing access both to the water and to the tractor-trailers delivering the many loads of chemicals required to keep the barge supplied.

Jared Mills, Augusta’s city manager, stopped by Thursday morning to see from shore how the project was going. He said the city supports the efforts to improve water quality in Togus Pond.


The Togus project required a state Department of Environmental Protection permit, following a months-long review.

Miller said the permit for the project allows for as many as five years of treatment. They hope to have a second treatment of alum, also likely to cost around $400,000, within two years or, Fagg said, whenever they are able to raise the funds to pay for it.

Miller said tests of sediment on the lake bottom indicated shallow areas of Togus Pond didn’t contain much phosphorus, but the areas deeper than 12 meters did. So treatment efforts have been focused on the roughly 100 acres of the pond that are 12 meters and deeper.

The treatments are expected to wrap up either Friday evening or Saturday morning.

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