Sheepscot Water Quality Monitoring in Its 27th Year
You walk down, through the brush, hearing the gurgle of a stream that gets louder as you approach. The sun is low in the sky, the heat of the day a few hours away. In the quiet you are with the early morning inhabitants: birds tittering and the occasional scurrying squirrels. Maybe the plop of an otter, if you are lucky. Perhaps you see water skimmers or minnows in the water. You are here on a mission, though: to take water samples and observe your stretch of the Sheepscot Watershed over the span of the summer, helping in understanding its health.
Midcoast Conservancy is gearing up for the 27th year of water quality monitoring on the Sheepscot River. The annual program, which is one of the longest continuous river monitoring programs in the state, involves many volunteers who “adopt” a site on the Sheepscot River, or one of its tributaries, and sample the water quality biweekly from May through September. Samplers measure dissolved oxygen and temperature in the river and collect water samples to be analyzed for bacteria. These data are then shared with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, which adds it to a statewide database. The information gleaned from the data helps to identify priority areas for remediation. In addition, it helps to inform legislators who are tasked to classify river systems for water quality.
“I love to get into the river regularly in the summer,” says Alex Pugh, longtime monitor and volunteer program coordinator. “I watch as the temperature changes and the dissolved oxygen drops and rebounds. Being intentional when I am there lets me compare from sample date to sample date, and from year to year. Last year I was curious whether the work on the Head Tide dam was going to affect my observations and readings. I was pleased with how clean the water was, despite the work.”
Since its inception in 1994 the Sheepscot water quality monitoring program has been a pillar of Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association and now Midcoast Conservancy. Midcoast Conservancy is committed to continuing the long history of community supported monitoring on the Sheepscot River, and keeping an eye on the health of the watershed as a whole. Just as for the state, the data collected has helped Midcoast Conservancy identify and monitor restoration priorities within the Sheepscot River valley.
Through observing trends the organization has been able to quantify the success of our restoration efforts and locate areas with problems for future work. One positive sign of success observed is the improvement of water quality following the removal of the Cooper’s Mills dam in Whitefield, which Midcoast Conservancy was instrumental in implementing. There has been an increase in summer dissolved oxygen concentrations which means the river is more hospitable to Atlantic Salmon that require higher levels of dissolved oxygen to thrive. Unfortunately, some signs of deteriorating water quality have also been observed in the form of higher summer temperatures, and decreased dissolved oxygen concentrations. Continued and continuous monitoring programs help to identify patterns and changes in those patterns, especially with recent drier summers accentuated by pulses of heavy rain.
We’re looking for new volunteer samplers and drivers for this coming season. If you’d like to visit the river on a regular basis and adopt a site, or be support for the program by driving samples to the lab, contact Patricia Nease email@example.com. Volunteers make it possible for the organization to keep a continuous eye on the health of the Sheepscot River.