Groups work on solutions to invasive plants and algae blooms in Belgrade’s Lake District

BELGRADE – While kayaking in August on the Serpentine Stream, which connects the northern and eastern ponds of the Belgrade Lake District, Bonny Jones noticed an aquatic plant she had never seen before.

She decided to take a sample of the plant, which tangled on the surface but had no floating leaves, and informed the 7 Lakes Alliance, a Belgrade-based conservation group.

The sample was sent and later identified as curly-leaved pondweed, a plant native to Africa, Australia and Eurasia.

The concern of the 7 Lakes Alliance and others is that this latest invasive plant threat could quickly spread to the nearby North Pond and other parts of the Belgrade Lakes watershed. The health of the lakes is imperative to attracting tourists, boaters and others to the region.

An effort by the alliance, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Colby College at Waterville and the North Pond Association to prevent the spread of the curly-leaved pondweed coincides with an attempt to add North Pond to the list of “weathered” lakes. “. The goal is to develop a management plan for the pond that prevents serious algal blooms and improves water quality over the next 10 years.

“The lakes of Maine are a tremendous asset to our state,” said Eric Brown, a high school science teacher who sits on the board of directors of the North Pond Association. “They are an important part of our natural resources and greatly contribute to the ecology and economy of our state. Raising awareness of how these lakes are connected and working to keep them healthy benefits all of central Maine. “

More than $ 80,000 is available for the development of a watershed plan, according to Kelly Marshall, chair of the board of directors of the North Pond Association.

“We really want to be aware and responsible for the money we are raising for sanitation,” Marshall said.

The 7 Lakes Alliance participates in a state program that monitors boats using public boat ramps to enter or exit lakes. Boats and other watercraft are checked for aquatic plants attached to hulls, engines or propellers. There are plenty of private boat launches, however, so it’s not possible to check every boat that takes on the water, according to the alliance’s Sharon Mann.

The alliance is also working to train volunteers, including Jones, to identify invasive species and search for new growth in the water.

“What we need are more volunteers,” Mann said. “We need more regular people trained in this stuff. “

Danielle Swain, director of lake science at the 7 Lakes Alliance, collects water samples Thursday at North Pond in Smithfield. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentry

Curly-leaved pondweed thrives in nutrient-rich, high-alkalinity waters, experts say. The United States Department of Agriculture says it was probably imported to the United States in the mid-1800s, possibly as part of stocking operations. It forms dense mats that inhibit the growth of native plants and can hinder recreational activities, including swimming, fishing, and boating, according to the USDA.

The curly-leaved pondweed is the latest invasive plant to threaten the Belgrade lakes. Eurasian Watermilfoil was discovered in the Great Meadow Stream in 2009. Eurasian Watermilfoil is native to the southeast and midwestern United States. In 2012, contractors were approached to try to stop its spread in the lakes of Belgrade.

In 2013, Skowhegan Savings Bank announced a donation of $ 10,000 to the Belgrade Lakes Association’s Stop Milfoil campaign. As with the Eurasian Pondweed, removing Eurasian Watermilfoil takes a considerable amount of time and can be costly, which is why community support is important.

Danielle Swain, director of lake science at the 7 Lakes Alliance, tagged water samples Thursday at a test site on North Pond in Smithfield. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Sentry

Pulling pondweed by its roots is the best way to remove it, experts say, but it isn’t likely to kill it completely because the spears, the plant’s buds, burrow into the sediment. As a result, the Seven Lakes Alliance emphasizes prevention.

“If you see a plant growing near the surface in May, it’s suspicious. We don’t have a lot of native plants that do this, ”Mann said. “Although it appears to be contained in the Serpentine (Stream), we need to prepare for it to be in East (Pond) and North Pond.”

In addition to dealing with the invasive plant, residents and officials had to deal with the algae blooms in the North Pond.

Danielle Wain, director of lake science for the alliance, said the alliance and Colby College have been monitoring North Pond since 2015, but something happened in 2018 to cause serious blooms.

“We’ve collected a lot of data on North Pond,” Wain said, “but there are data gaps that we plan to fill over the next two years.”

The blooms are caused by blue-green algae, experts say. Algae are necessary for lake and pond ecosystems, but blue-green algae are harmful. To better understand why blooms are occurring on North Pond, Wain and his team regularly test water samples with the help of D. Whitney King, professor of chemistry at Colby College.

The samples are taken to King’s lab, where his students help test the clarity, temperature, and oxygen, chlorophyll and phosphorus levels of the water. Algae use phosphorus to flower, which often comes from runoff and sediment from shorelines.

“It’s a great community collaboration,” King said. “You start to build this team of experts who are making proactive plans. “

East Pond experienced a similar algae bloom in 2018, which was treated with aluminum sulfate which helped bind phosphorus.

Wain said North Pond is larger and a similar treatment might not be as effective, but the alliance plans to do more research on the treatment.

“They are all connected. It is a large watershed of the Belgrade Lakes, ”said Wain. “Everything we do has downstream impacts. “

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