Water quality is key focus of Camden Conservation Commission

Ducks, drugs and discharge reduced in Camden Harbor
By Susan Mustapich | May 15, 2017
Photo by: Susan Mustapich A sign at the Public Landing overlooking Camden Harbor asks residents and visitors not to feed ducks in the harbor, and informs about fines for doing so.

CAMDEN — Efforts to improve water quality in Camden Harbor are focusing on ducks, drugs and various types of polluting discharge.

The Camden Conservation Commission is leading volunteer efforts to help clean up Camden Harbor through several campaigns that educate residents and visitors about preventing pollution. The Commission is also working with the town's Wastewater Treatment Department on a long-term project to identify faulty connections to the sewer system.

On May 5, the Conservation Commission received a $5,000 grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Foundation, according to its chairman Roger Rittmaster. The grant will help fund a number of education and outreach efforts. The Foundation is a recipient of lottery ticket proceeds, and holds grant competitions twice a year.

Ducks

A sign at the public landing near the fisherman's float, and another at one of the entrances to Harbor Park advise against feeding the ducks.

On May 4, there were no ducks looking for food around the old stone boat launch at Harbor Park, or paddling in the harbor near the waterfall below the Montgomery Dam.

As it turns out, dried bread crusts are not good for ducks because they are filling, but provide no nutrients and duck poop adds raw sewage to the harbor, Rittmaster said. The congregating of ducks in the harbor also means disease can spread more quickly among them.

At the June 2016 annual town meeting voters passed an ordinance to prohibit feeding waterfowl on public or private property in Camden, and keeping or feeding any wild animal or bird on public or private property in a manner that creates unclean, unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

Prior to that vote, Jason Peasley, the owner of River Ducks Ice Cream, voluntarily stopped selling a corn-based feed for ducks. The seasonal business on Mechanic Street next to the Camden Riverhouse footbridge did a good business selling the feed, Peasley said, but he stopped selling it when he heard of the discussion about bird feeding around town.

"We just voluntarily did it. Not one told us we had to stop," he said.

Drugs

"Got Drugs?" signs posted at numerous locations in Camden, Rockport, and Rockland is another Conservation Commission effort, this one to protect marine animals from medications, which are another source of water pollution when not disposed of properly.

"No medications should ever be flushed or poured down the drain," said Commission member Wayne Ruesswick. "Our wastewater treatment plant does not filter them out and they end up in the harbor."

A lot of the drugs we use can affect marine animals at very low concentrations, according to Rittmaster.

A large "Got Drugs?" sign is posted at the Mid-Coast Solid Waste transfer station, and others are posted at most pharmacies in the area. Additional signs will be posted in Camden and Rockport town offices.

The signs give the hours and locations to drop off unused medications. Drug collection is accepted by the Camden Police Department, and the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Neither location accept liquids or sharps (needles), Ruesswick said.

"Liquids should be mixed with kitty litter or coffee grounds and disposed of with your trash", he said. "Needles can be placed in an opaque container (like an empty detergent bottle) and thrown away with your trash."

The Commission has also made a couple of thousand slips printed with the drug take-back times and locations to be handed out at local pharmacies along with prescription medication.

Discharge

A general lack of awareness that anything put into storm drains ends up in Camden Harbor and other bodies of water, is cited in a water quality grant application prepared by the Conservation Commission.

To increase awareness, the Commission plans to stencil messages, such as "A Clean Harbor Starts Here," at half of the storm drains in Camden. The project will continue next year as well.

A group of sixth-grade students at Camden-Rockport Middle School will design stencils and spend a morning painting them around storm drains in Camden with a member of the Conservation Commission, according to long-term substitute teacher Sarah Whittam. The interdisciplinary school program investigates the questions "What's worth fighting for?" and "How and why do people seek change?" and connects with a science class unit on climate change and lessening the community's impact on the environment.

Storm drains connect to the stormwater system, as well as to ditches for runoff, and will collect products used on driveways and lawns, according to Public Works Director Rick Seibel. Anything poured into one of the many storm drains in Camden will eventually migrate into waterways, he said.

The Commission is working on an educational campaign to remind boaters visiting Camden Harbor that pump out service is free and readily available. When boaters enter Camden Harbor this year, they will see buoys with signs that provide the number to call for the service.

The town has provided free pump-out service at the harbor since 2003, and in 2010 all discharges from boats was prohibited. Federal regulations prohibit sewage discharges within 3 miles of land.

Education is key to boater awareness, according to Rittmaster. Statistics maintained by the town on the pump out program show that a boater education program in 2010 resulted in the doubling of gallons of waste pumped out.

The Commission is also working with the Camden Wastewater Department on a long-term project to locate and correct any cross-connections between the sewer and storm drain systems. Work to separate the storm and sewer systems in the 1970s was imperfect, according to the grant application, and the elimination of cross-connections is ongoing. This year the Wastewater Department is focusing on the Rawson Brook drainage, a known area of high coliform counts.

The Conservation Commission is seeking to hire a summer intern to assist the Wastewater Department with property surveys regarding storm and sewer systems, as well as the storm drain stencil program.

Rittmaster said the Maine Outdoor Heritage grant will pay half the summer intern's salary, and the Wastewater Department will pay for the remainder.

Courier Publications reporter Susan Mustapich can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at smustapich@villagesoup.com.

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