October 2022 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The Androscoggin River’s declining water quality in the 1960s and 70s was the inspiration for Ed Muskie to draft the Clean Water Act in 1972. The river was a receptacle for paper mill waste, sewage, and stormwater runoff from uncontrolled development for most of its length from New Hampshire to the Atlantic Ocean. Not only was it unhealthy for drinking, but also fishing and swimming. A large portion of the Androscoggin River runs through Oxford County Maine. Since 1972, the water quality has steady and vastly improved due to the Clean Water Act. Oxford County SWCD is doing its part to continue improving water quality in the watershed through 319 Projects, which are funded by the Clean Water Act.
Currently the Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District (OCSWCD) has been working on two projects that protect water quality sub-watersheds of the river. The Lake Pennesseewassee and Anasagunticook Watershed Protection Projects are 2-year 319 projects which are both in their final year. These projects have brought over $128,000 in federal grant funds to Oxford County and have been matched locally by over $118,000 of in-kind and cash contributions to get this important work done. That’s $246,000 of conservation work put on the ground that directly benefits Oxford County, its towns and citizens, as well as the health of the Androscoggin River. These two projects address non-point source (NPS) pollution, primarily caused by stormwater runoff and soil erosion, that has adverse effects on the water quality of our lakes; lakes that are focal points of our local economy.
“While Oxford County SWCD helps coordinate and administer this work, the real heroes are the volunteers who go to the extra lengths to get the work done,” says Michele Windsor, Oxford County District Manager. “They do outreach about the projects and even coordinate and carry out some of the work. These projects are successful in large part due to their efforts.”
The 319 projects tackle NPS pollution in 3 basic ways:
1) Working with local municipalities and businesses on large NPS sites, such as eroding road ditches and culvert crossings that were identified during a previous watershed survey and applying Best Management Practices (BMPs) to fix them with grant cost-sharing.
2) Working with watershed residents to address erosion on their properties that contribute sediment and phosphorous to the lands, ditches, and streams that run to the lake, by providing Residential Matching Grants of up to $350 to help pay for improvements made.
3) Providing educational workshops for watershed residents to help them better understand ways that they can help control NPS by planting phosphorous filtering shoreline buffers, or better maintaining their gravel “camp” roads.
Text by Michele Windsor, Oxford County SWCD