How clean are the lakes on MDI?

THIS MAP FROM THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY INDICATES THE RISKS OF MDI LAKES TO INVASIVE AQUATIC SPECIES. YELLOW INDICATES MODERATE RISK. BLUE IS LOW RISK. https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=54b2a5c513a74af3bd0f42148dde34a9

SOMESVILLE, July 4, 2020 – MDI’s natural assets need no embellishment. The iconoclastic rocky coast, dense swaths of green, softly outlined mountains, moody stretches of fog — they are transcendent. Its trails are like veins and arteries breathing oxygen throughout the entire fulsome corpus – one unlike any.

The mountains of MDI are essentially granite promontories with the tallest ones poking above the treeline which prompted the French explorer Samuel de Champlain to equate them with deserts. Acid rain stripped the trees of their verdant complexion in the Nineties but they have since come back. More trees can always be planted, and more trails blazed. The rocks are forever.

The fresh bodies of water on the island, however, do not have the luxury of guaranteed sustainability. I have always assumed a degree of fragility with the lakes and ponds on MDI, as with lakes anywhere in Maine. Acadia National Park is a mixed blessing and a bit of a wildcard. Bubble Pond, Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake rank consistently among the cleanest in the state, owing to their shoreline development moratorium. But the average 3.5 million visitors to the park is an imposing number, particularly for Echo Lake and Long Pond, where swimmers and boaters come in hordes.

Every boater and fisherman from away has the potential of conveying invasive species. They are often unintentionally spread from one body of water to another. This happens through the failure to remove organisms clinging to boats and trailers.

Becky Schaffner, of the Maine Bureau of Water Quality, said there are nine factors which weigh in on why Long Pond received the caution yellow card in the map above for invasive plants. But three stand above all else: a launching ramp giving great access to boats, proximity to tourism and highways, and size of the lake. At 939 acres, Long Pond is twice the size of the second largest lake on MDI, Eagle Lake. It is the only lake with unlimited horsepower for boats. About 10 years ago it banned jet skis which can take over a lake quickly with a high-pitched and loud screech and dangerous speeds that threaten loons and kayakers.

I know many of my readers are well-schooled in these perils. But bear with me. Recently retired, I am just now diving into the subject and what I’m finding is unnerving. I recently started to monitor Lond Pond’s water clarity, the safe keeping of multiple sets of loons, the state of the habitats, reports of water quality, and the like. So I was stunned when I ran across the above map while doing my usual due diligence. I have always assumed that MDI lakes were pristine and above reproach in terms of their quality.

https://www.maine.gov/dep/water/invasives/vulnerability.html

But Becky Schaffner walked me back from the edge, explaining that virtually all lakes of a certain size have the yellow status. It’s more of a category than an actual measurement. There are no invasive plants in any of MDI’s lakes although Somes Pond has been flagged as a “below average” lake in terms of its clarity and water quality.

It was the finger-like ponds, lakes and Somes Sound, carved by a glacial hand millions of years ago, which drew my wife and me back summer after summer. In August 1984 we beat against a stiff wind to round Northern Neck on Long Pond and onto the lee side where, close to Ned Johnson’s summer cottage, there was portage at a causeway for our canoe to return to the rental place at pond’s end. Even at a much younger age it was unexpectedly demanding. Lighter, swifter kayaks have yet come into fashion. The earned calories allowed for a hearty dinner at the Asticou that night.

Like many vacationers, swimming in an obstructed body of water without having to turn every 25 yards was a rare pleasure for me. There were braver souls who crossed the lake at its narrowest from the eastern shore of Northern Neck to the other side despite boat traffic. The late Kenneth Paigen, director of Jackson Labs who died in February at Age 92, swam every day in the lake. I best remembered him as the perennial winner of the Long Pond Regatta, held the first Sunday in August. His 20-foot sloop, Soleil, had a distinctive bright sun logo and would vanquish the rest of the fleet every year.

Long Pond was also home to Brian Shaw’s sea plane, parked at Pond’s End. I never minded the minor ruckus caused by the plane’s takeoffs and landings. It was one of the special oddities which made Long Pond distinctive.

I have an unconditional affection for Long Pond even though it once almost cost me my life. While swimming along the western shore of the lake one day about 20 years ago, I spied a boat towing a skiier headed toward me. It was far off and I did not panic. I was certain the pilot would see me in the water. Then, as the boat approached I saw that there was no spotter as required by law. The driver was the spotter and had his eyes on his skiing daughter instead of the water ahead. It was headed straight for me.

I dove and watched the boat go over me. I remembered there was a skiier in tow so I stayed under water until she went by. The boater realized what he had done and stopped. There was profuse and animated apologies. I scolded him. We went our ways. Since then I have always towed a red life preserver and worn a yellow cap while swimming in Long Pond.

Long Pond is also where I became a fisherman although I did not catch a single fish for 10 years. A neighbor, Richard Closson, taught me to go to the one-stop and buy worms. He then mapped the best places on the lake for me. You can’t catch fish where there aren’t any.

All these activities would suffer if Long Pond were to be invaded by aquatic species.

The invasive species which gets the most attention is milfoil.

milfoil-3

Milfoil can radically change the ecology of a lake. It can grow at an inch a day if conditions are ripe, it forms very dense mats of vegetation on the surface of the water and it spreads so fast that a small body of water can be choked with it in a single season or two. The thick Milfoil mats interfere with most recreational activities including boating, swimming, water skiing and fishing.

Milfoil has already penetrated many lakes and ponds in southern Maine. See link for a map:

https://maine.maps.arcgis.com/home/webmap/viewer.html?webmap=126b9dbc59f44f969f74739bc9bc4ade

Since 2002 Maine has required all motorized boats have “milfoil” stickers to generate revenue to combat the spread of the plant.

MY MILFOIL STICKERS PROUDLY DISPLAYED

You may help by volunteering to monitoring water quality or as a IPPers (Invasive Plant Patrollers). The Somes-Meynell Nature Sanctuary has partnered with the Lake Stewards of Maine  (https://www.lakestewardsofmaine.org/) to train volunteers to educate boaters at the pond’s end boat launch on Long Pond. http://www.somesmeynell.org/?page_id=230

While it’s possible to eradicate invasive plants, it’s a difficult task, said Beck Schaffner. Some lakes have tried herbicides specific to the plant so not to affect other vegetation. Then there is simply pulling out the plants by hand. Some towns have hired divers as well.

https://www.lakesofmaine.org/lake-water-quality.html?m=0447

Climate change only adds urgency to the need to be vigilant. The surface temperature in Long Pond today was 76 degrees. I cannot remember a time over the last 35 years when the temperature was above 70 in late June or early July. Last summer the temperature actually exceeded 80 in August.

Warming water exacerbates all the threats mentioned above. A shorter ice season gives rise to more organisms to grow and at a faster clip. Native and non native species begin to jockey for territory. Fresh water fish are endangered.

The North American Lake Management Society warned:

“Aquatic ecosystems are sensitive to climate change, and the impacts of future climatic changes include a wide range of negative consequences … Increased water temperatures will affect oxygen regimes, redox potentials, lake stratification, mixing rates, and the metabolism and life cycles of aquatic organisms.

“Freshwater species are at especially high risk to be threatened or endangered due to climate change … specific ecological responses to climate change cannot be predicted, because new combinations of native and non-native species will interact in novel situations. Overall, shifts in precipitation variability and seasonal runoff will have profound effects on water supply, water quality, and management of water resources.”

Luckily we live in Maine where common sense and practicality trump blind ideology. The water around us is getting warmer. The next 35 years will require much more proactive, prophylactic behavior than the last 35.

The state of the lakes and ponds on MDI is good. But the next time you jump into the lake, launch your boat, cast that line, make sure for everyone’s sake the contact is safe and free.