Waldoboro working to improve Medomak River water quality

Dec 13, 2013

Waldoboro — Over the past 12 months, a collaboration between state, town and local partners has been testing the waters of the Medomak River for bacterial pollution in an effort to improve the water quality.

The Medomak River is important to residents for a variety of economic, recreational and scenic values. But one of the most important natural resources in the watershed is the water itself. Water from the river provides essential habitat for wildlife and impacts natural resource-based industries, recreation and the overall health of the local ecosystem and landscape.

The Medomak River is classified as a conditional river for purposes of shellfish harvesting. This means that if an inch of rain falls in a 24-hour period, the majority of the Medomak is closed to the 175 shellfish harvesters who are licensed to harvest. In some years, this has resulted in the river being closed for more than half the harvest year, and a loss in product value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For more than 10 years, Waldoboro shellfish harvesters have been trying to increase their number of harvest days by improving the water quality of the river. Led by Glen Melvin and Abden Simmons, Waldoboro shellfish harvesters appealed many times to the Department of Marine Resources, to state Legislature, and to others, asking for their help in testing the river and addressing closure issues.

In January 2013, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher and Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb gave their support to the establishment of a water quality working group, which began investigating the pollution issues further.

“I commend the collaboration between these agencies to identify concerns and work together for a cleaner Medomak River,” said Gov. Paul R. LePage in a news release. “Maine’s economy is tied to its natural resources industries, which depend on a healthy environment. My administration is committed to advancing efforts necessary to protect our natural resources and improve economic opportunity for hard working Mainers.”

The project has focused on sampling in the Medomak River estuary, along the river in Waldoboro village and upstream. The group is using the data to identify potential sources coming from failed septic systems, runoff from farms, problems with sewer lines and other point sources. The biggest “hot spot” for bacteria was identified upstream in the river, adjacent to North American Kelp’s (NAK) facility on Cross Street.

The town and the Waldoboro Utility District have also played important roles in this effort by providing information concerning the ownership and historical uses properties, locations of small streams and drainage ditches and pipes and the waste water system. The town has also taken the lead in working with residents to repair failed septic systems.

The DMR will use the information collected to evaluate the possibility of increasing the shellfish harvest area in the upper Medomak River.

While great progress has been made, there is still work to be done and there are opportunities for people to help at many levels. Daily activities on properties — including caring for yards and disposal of waste from dogs, cats and chickens — can have a significant impact on water quality.

For more information contact the working group chairman, Phil Garwood (DEP), at phil.e.garwood@maine.gov or by phone at 441-9034.

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Staff Profile

Beth Birmingham
Staff Reporter
594-4401 ext. 125
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Beth rejoined Courier Publications' news staff in February 2013. She previously worked at The Courier-Gazette from 1981 to 1990.

Her coverage area includes Warren, Union, Friendship, Waldoboro, Washington, and Thomaston and RSU40.

Beth has a passion for photography, and a degree from the University of Maine at Augusta, in affiliation with the Maine Photographic Workshop in Rockport.

Aside from photography, Beth enjoys running and walks along the waterfront, as well as other outdoor activities. She has a daughter, Claire, who is 13.

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