About the Program

Modeling Resilience and Adaptation in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed

Study Participants

Colby College:
Whitney King, Miselis Professor of Chemistry
Russell Cole, Oak Professor of Biological Sciences
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
James Fleming, Professor of Science, Technology and Society
Herbert Wilson, Arey Professor of Biological Sciences
Catherine Bevier, Associate Professor of Biology
Alice Elliott, Assistant Director for Community Outreach, Goldfarb Center
Bruce Rueger, Visiting Assistant Professor of Geology
Michael Donihue, Professor of Economics

Conservation Partners:
Peter Kallin, Executive Director, BRCA
Mel Croft, President, BRCA
Kathleen Wall, Executive Director, MLRC
Polly Beatie, President, BLA
Rick Watson, President, North Pond Association
Maggie Shannon, Executive Director, Maine COLA

Introduction of Research Goals:  Faculty from the Colby College Departments of Chemistry, Geology, Economics, Biology; the Environmental Studies Program; and the Science, Technology, and Society Program propose to collaborate with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, the Maine Congress of Lake Associations, five lake associations within the Belgrade Lakes Watershed and with faculty from the University of Maine system to form interdisciplinary teams with stakeholder participation to understand the impact of landscape and lake-ecosystem changes with the development of central Maine. The Belgrade Lakes region will be used as a model because it provides a unique laboratory to investigate the complex dynamics among environmental, biogeochemical, and socio-economic systems.

As described in our Year I and II proposals, the Belgrade Lakes Watershed comprises an interconnected chain of seven major lakes linked physically, biologically, geochemically, economically, politically, and socially.  The Belgrade Lakes Watershed spans 13 municipalities and covers approximately 180 square miles.  This watershed provides a Maine-based system to study linked social-ecological structures and develop novel interdisciplinary approaches toward sustainable solutions (Collins et al. 2011).

Resources of the Research Team: Colby College has more than 25 years of experience conducting research, gathering data, and working with interdisciplinary teams of students and faculty in the Belgrade Lakes region. During this time, a dedicated interdisciplinary network of Colby faculty focusing on chemistry, geology, biology, ecology, economics, environmental science, spatial analysis and visualization, economics, and policy has compiled an unprecedented database of water quality, land-cover change, and socio-economic data for many watersheds in central Maine. Colby has also developed professional collaborations with a large network of local watershed associations, government agencies (including the DEP Lakes Division) and researchers.

The Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance (BRCA) is dedicated to conserving the lands, water quality, and natural heritage of the Belgrade Lakes Watershed. The BRCA works with area lake associations, state and town governments and agencies, other conservation groups, and private landowners to preserve the region’s natural resources and maintain public access for low-impact recreational activities, like hiking, fishing, hunting, canoeing, and cross-country skiing.

The Maine Congress of Lake Associations represents a state-wide network of lake associations with extensive experience delivering lake science education programs to schools as part of its commitment to fostering a strong ‘sense of place.’

In an exciting new development, the Belgrade Lakes community has just finished building a 3,500-square-foot conservation resource center in Belgrade Lakes Village.  The new Maine Lakes Resource Center (MLRC) has offices for conservation groups, space for sales of conservation products, demonstration of conservation tactics, and cultural displays as well as event space.  With the help of partners such as the Maine COLA, BLA, BRCA, and Colby College, we are optimistic that the MLRC will become a model showing how to make “Conservation a Tradition” for the entire state of Maine.

Direction of our work in Year III:  Our proposal for Year III builds on the fundamental science collected in Years I and II and moves toward specific actions targeted at promoting sustainable lake systems in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed.   This proposal is organized in three sections: 1. Ongoing physical studies of fundamental lake ecology and social science studies of human values and sense of place; 2. Testing and dissemination of solutions to promote sustainability of the lake ecosystems; and 3. Education and outreach to stakeholders and the broader Belgrade Lakes community.  To help achieve these goals, we have expanded the research team to include Michael Donihue, a macroeconomist at Colby College and Kathi Wall, the new Executive Director of the Maine Lakes Resource Center.  We have also expanded our collaborator group to acknowledge formally the ongoing and significant contributions of local lake associations in this work.  Dr. Andy Reeve from the Geosciences Department at the University of Maine will also be collaborating on hydrodynamic studies of water flow between the seven lake systems.   All of this work is supported by a dynamic group of more than ten undergraduate students working with Colby faculty and our conservation group partners.

Fundamental Science and Sense of Place

I.  Historical Studies and Defining, Creating, and Sharing a Sense of Place:  Co-PI Fleming and his students are examining the concept of “sense of place,” the roles it plays in stakeholders’ lives, and how it links knowledge and action.  They are articulating a “useable past” that identifies and communicates a shared sense of place and community values to residents and visitors of all ages. Sense of place is not only a locale; it involves complex relationships over lifecycles and generations.  This team has identified the acts of bonding with place through caring, sharing, and organizing as powerful links between knowledge and action (K to A).

Task I deliverables include: (a) Enhancing stakeholder engagement through detailed studies of history and sense of place centered in the Belgrade Lakes Region. (b) Communicating results of these studies on the web, at regional and national meetings, through local media, and through exhibits at the new BRCA resource center. (c) Publishing an article on history and sense of place in the peer-reviewed literature that documents the Belgrade experience, informs other stakeholders statewide, nationally, and internationally, and encourages additional contributions of an interdisciplinary nature. (d) Developing and circulating a survey instrument on sense of place that gives voice to and empowers stakeholders. (e) Conducting oral history interviews with key stakeholders and groups. (f) Using history and sense of place to complement the ongoing geological overview of the Belgrades.

II. Shoreline Studies:  Co-PIs Cole, Bevier and students – Lakeshores are increasingly being transformed from their natural forested and wetland cover to developed lawn, sandy beaches, and impervious surfaces (e.g., roads, parking areas, built structures). Such changes impact littoral habitats, important areas of interface between aquatic and terrestrial environments that influence transport of nutrients, sediment loading, presence of woody substrate, amount of organic matter in the sediments, and species diversity (Merrell et al. 2009). Previous studies provide evidence that both the structure and function of littoral communities differ substantially between developed and undeveloped shorelines (Brauns et al. 2007, 2011). For example, trophic complexity of food webs is lower near developed shorelines largely because coarse woody debris, aquatic macrophytes, and submerged woody debris are often absent (Brauns et al. 2011). Such anthropogenic changes in the littoral habitat have the potential to alter food webs and overall lake health drastically. To advance our understanding of the effects of shoreline development on lake ecosystems, we propose to continue, and expand, sampling protocols for riparian and littoral habitats developed in Year II.  We will continue to consult with Maine DEP, Lakes Division scientists and local stakeholders (see progress report Task III) in this work.  Proposed protocols were tested in riparian and littoral habitats associated with developed and undeveloped properties along the Great Pond shoreline.  A comprehensive data set of abiotic (e.g., substrate and sediment characteristics) and biotic (e.g., aquatic macrophyte and macroinvertebrate diversity) characteristics of the riparian and littoral habitats using qualitative and quantitative assessments was compiled. We also took simultaneous depth and GPS readings along the shoreline of Great Pond to facilitate production of an accurate bathymetry map and to identify areas for potential colonization by invasive aquatic macrophytes.   Our experimental protocols are similar to those used on other lakes (e.g., Ness 2006; Merrell et al. 2009), which will facilitate comparisons with other similarly developed watersheds.

Specific tasks for Year III include: (a) Expand and verify qualitative and quantitative comparisons of developed and undeveloped shoreline lots on Great Pond. (b) Conduct similar shoreline studies on North and East Ponds, lakes with different trophic states in comparison to Great Pond.  (c) Map all aquatic macrophyte patches along the perimeters of North and East Ponds to investigate potential impacts of shoreline development.  (d) Utilize high resolution satellite images of the watershed and shoreline photographs from a GPS enabled camera to create a shoreline map detailing shoreline development and location with the goal of quantitatively describing lot and buffer characteristics and relating them to lake biological diversity in the littoral habitat.  (e) Investigate how implementation of best management practices (BMPs) by shoreline property owners, especially those awarded LakeSmart Certification (see Task VII) affects abiotic and biotic characteristics of riparian and littoral habitats.

III. Modeling of Lake Ecosystems:  PI King and his students have six years of high-resolution physical data on the thermohaline mixing of East and North Ponds.  These data have been successfully modeled using a one-dimensional hydrodynamic model (DYRESM) to predict the formation and erosion of thermal stratification in these lakes.  East Pond is an example of a lake that has reached a tipping point and now experiences significant bloom events on an annual basis. The onset and duration of these events is directly tied to late summer destratification that physically transports benthic and hypolimnetic phosphorus into the euphotic zone. North Pond, a lake of similar size to East Pond, does not experience serious blooms and also exhibits very different thermocline properties.  In Years I and II, we collected the necessary bathymetry data to expand these physical mixing models to the other five Belgrade lakes.  These results confirm that lake surface area, mean depth, and inflow/outflow result in differences in thermocline formation, depth, and erosion causing differences in long-term phosphorus accumulation in the sediments, and short-term phosphorus availability in the water column.  We also recognize that sediment composition is influenced by watershed size and geochemistry (Lake et al. 2007) and will have a significant influence on internal loading of nutrients.  We have collected sediment samples for East, North, Long, Snow and Great Ponds in Years I and II for analysis of P, Fe, Al, As, and Pb across and between lakes.  The results show the expected relationship between hypolimnetic phosphorus flux and sediment Al concentrations (Thiele 2011).   East Pond, the only eutrophic lake in the chain has 70% less Al in the sediments than the other lakes.

Specific tasks for Year III include: (a) Further integration of these geochemical measurements with physical models of lake turnover to predict nutrient storage and release. (b) Expansion of our physical model to include comprehensive ecosystem modeling that incorporating nutrients, phytoplankton, fish, and bacteria using the Computational Aquatic Ecosystem Dynamics Model (CAEDYM).  These types of models provide insights into the drivers of ecosystem resilience in the context of lake size, shape, bathymetry, shoreline development, and watershed hydrology.

IV. Interlake Dynamics:  Co-PIs Cole, King, and Nyhus and their students – Lakes are typically studied as individual and spatially-independent entities rather than as connected ecosystems across a landscape (Soranno et al. 1999).   There is little research exploring the dynamics of between-lake connections and their influence on nutrient flows.  In Year III, Co-PIs Cole, King, Nyhus and their students will continue investigating how lakes in the Belgrade Lakes chain are interacting with each other.  This team is exploring the influence of different land covers and land uses within lake watersheds and within connecting stream and wetland subwatersheds on the movement of nutrients (especially phosphorus) between lakes. This dynamic has important implications for the management and conservation of lake water quality in the Belgrades.  These data have important implications for models of nutrient dynamics and for understanding the resilience of this interconnected lake system.

This fall our ES research course (ES494 – Problems in Environmental Science) will investigate the influence of land use patterns on water quality in the East Pond and North Pond watersheds.  Precipitation impacts on the Serpentine Stream that connects these two lakes will also be examined; a collaboration with Andy Reeve will enable us to obtain accurate flow measurements.   Understanding the flow dynamics of the Serpentine Stream is important because heavy rainfall may cause the Serpentine Stream to reverse its normal flow pattern and flow back into East Pond. East and North Ponds represent the beginning of the Belgrade Lakes chain of lakes and understanding the factors influencing water quality for these lakes will provide important data for understanding and modeling water quality issues throughout the Belgrade Lakes chain of lakes.

Specific tasks for Year III include: (a) Assess the accuracy of land use determinations for GIS layers of each lake watershed and of connecting streams subwatersheds by ground surveys. (b) Develop a simple nonpoint-source phosphorus (P) loading model for each lake based on surface water flow. (c) Conduct periodic flow measurements necessary to model stream flow between selected lakes.

V.  Statistical Economic Abstract for the Belgrade Lakes Watershed:  Co-PI Donihue and his students – Statistical abstracts are typically defined according to geo-political boundaries (e.g., city, school district, county, state, national).  We propose to construct a statistical abstract defined according to the boundaries of a natural resource – the Belgrade Lakes Watershed.  The defining characteristic of this resource, namely seven interconnected water bodies, presents a unique context in which to tie the socio-economic linkages that inherently define the communities that exist within the watershed to their physical environment through a compilation of relevant economic, demographic, scientific, and cultural information.  This abstract is intended to inform the residents of these communities about the environment in which they live in the context of factors that define and drive economic activity in the region.  Stakeholder groups, community service providers, economic development agents, and policy makers within the region will benefit from a source of information that brings together data from disparate sources into a common format.  Students engaged in developing the Abstract will benefit from a hands-on application of theoretical methods for data analysis and modeling and enhance their communication skills through collaboration with residents and stakeholder groups.

Specific tasks to produce the Abstract include: (a) Cross referencing the available socio-economic data to the region defined by the watershed. (b) Producing thematically-based summary charts and tables. (c) Producing the relevant GIS maps illustrating key features of the region in the context of socio-economic data.  (d) Formatting the Abstract to be accessible to a broad audience.

Engineering a Sustainable Human-Lake Ecosystem

VI.  Field Testing Phosphorus Control Systems:  At the specific request of DEP, Co-PIs Kallin, King and their students have instrumented the new MLRC site with HOBO temperature sensors, tipping rain gauges and high resolution video recorders to evaluate the effectiveness of newly installed rain gardens (Wilson and Gilberton 2006), shoreline buffers (Wenger 1999), and pervious pavers at reducing runoff velocity and temperature of water from significant rain events.  While these technologies are well established regionally, our goal is to share data on the design, cost, and effectiveness of shoreline modifications with community stakeholders to reduce barriers to adopting these technologies.   The Maine Lakes Resource Center is an ideal venue for providing hands-on demonstrations and disseminating our experimental results. We hoped to be collecting data in Year II, but delays in the MLRC construction have pushed this work into Year III.  At other sites on Great Pond, we have evaluated, designed, and implemented appropriate erosion control systems to improve shoreline properties to LakeSmart status.

In addition to documenting erosion control devices, we are also collaborating with the Kennebec Water District (KWD) to evaluate the effectiveness of an experimental septic leach field at the MLRC. The MLRC septic system has two leach fields: 1. a control field placed over native soil and 2. an experimental field placed over “waste” alum from the KWD.   Using sampling pipes installed during the construction of the system, we will begin long-term monitoring of the system performance.   The goal of the alum experimental treatment is to double the effective lifetime of shoreline leach fields.

Specific tasks for Year III include:  (a) Evaluation and documentation of the cost and effectiveness of typical erosion control technologies deployed in Maine ecosystems.  (b) Work with KWD to evaluate the effectiveness of the alum-enhanced MLRC leach field.  (c) Establish  model shoreline lot demonstrations on Colby properties.  In September 2011 and 2012, over thirty, first-year Colby students will spend their first four days at Colby upgrading college shoreline properties to LakeSmart status by installing appropriate erosion control measures (e.g.,  culverts, rain gardens, and vegetated shoreline buffers).  This demonstration project links directly to the educational components of the grant.

VII. LakeSmart Initiative:  Co-PIs Shannon, Nyhus, Bevier and their students are collaborating with Barbara Welch and Kathy Hope at DEP to explore the human dimensions of the DEP LakeSmart program, which offers opportunities for homeowners to learn about and implement lake-friendly landscaping practices (LakeSmart 2011). Lakefront property owners who adopt practices that reduce nutrient inputs to the waterbody (e.g., enhancing natural vegetative cover,  increasing infiltration of stormwater) receive public recognition in the form of a LakeSmart Award or Commendation.  We are exploring LakeSmart as one potential metric of effective conservation action by investigating the successful diffusion of LakeSmart program at scale of a given lake.  Two lake associations in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed are actively promoting the LakeSmart program using volunteers to speed diffusion through a DEP/Maine COLA pilot study.  Their efforts were expanded this past summer when all Colby SSP participants received LakeSmart training and eight Colby student researchers evaluated over 30 properties against LakeSmart criteria. DEP and other lake stakeholders desire statewide distribution of the LakeSmart program; currently only 33 lakes are participating.  Questions of interest to the Belgrade Lakes Watershed study, with implications for other watersheds in Maine and the US, are what motivates property owners to seek LakeSmart recognition, and what factors enhance or constrain successful adoption of the program. It is unclear what motivates some individuals and not others to take the steps that lead to LakeSmart recognition, and why some lakes enjoy more success with LakeSmart than others.

Drawing on the results of our 2010 survey of shoreline residents on three Belgrade lakes to develop our hypotheses, we set the following tasks for Year III: (a) We will use GIS and spatial statistics (e.g. Gettis Ord and Moran’s I statistics and regression) to test whether LakeSmart households are more likely to be spatially clumped than random, perhaps reflecting influence of early adopters. (b) Social status and group interactions may also influence LakeSmart participation, so we will interview LakeSmart awardees to explore societal influences. (c) Education level, income, and other measurable socio-economic indicators may also influence participation, so we will explore whether early adopters are more likely to share common characteristics than non-adopters. (d) Since success may depend on organizational and institutional infrastructure and leadership; we will classify lakes based on association characteristics (e.g., percent of shorefront owners that are dues paying lake association members), and other capacity parameters. Research results from Year III will help determine the greatest barriers to program expansion, and how to help lake associations build and maintain program momentum.  In addition, we would like to determine why, when residents request a LakeSmart evaluation, some fail to act on recommendations that would lead to recognition. In some cases, the evaluator is crucial to convincing people to take action, though the full dimensions underlying homeowner motivation remain unclear. Finally, we hope to determine if LakeSmart expansion would be facilitated by focusing on fewer best management practices (e.g.,   buffers) and whether fewer, more focused criteria would help spread the program more broadly and rapidly, and achieve an equivalent or improved result.

Education and Outreach to Stakeholders

The new Maine Lakes Resource Center and the two boats (Colby Compass and Melinda Ann) provide outstanding physical venues for stakeholder interaction.  The MLRC is the home of the Belgrade Farmers Market, a venue for concerts and art shows, location for public docks, and the only public rest rooms (see septic system above) in Belgrade Village.  The boats are our research platforms, but also serve as floating classrooms and tour boats.  Using these facilities we propose the following activities.

VIII. K-12 Outreach:  Co-PIs Bevier, Shannon, Rueger, and their students –  We propose to continue work with students in Grades 5 through 8 from the Messalonskee, Skowhegan, and Waterville school administrative units. Several teaching modules have been developed and customized specifically for use in the Belgrade Lakes, and will have been field-tested for the lake science curriculum.  We propose four specific activities over the year. First, we will conduct Teacher Workshops at the Maine Lakes Resource Center in September and October to present ‘Pre-boat Classroom Activities’. Students from Messalonskee Middle School experienced this curriculum in spring 2011, and we propose to expand the experience to students and teachers from other local districts. Colby faculty and students will join staff and board members from Maine COLA to present these activities. Schools will then be invited to schedule field trips for May and June 2012 aboard the floating classrooms.

As part of the K-12 component in Year III we will finish both the paper and virtual field guides for the five trails in the Kennebec Highlands and make them available to the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance and to local schools.  The virtual guides will be housed on a server that will allow widespread access.  Building on that information we will expand outward regionally to include the areas that are not as well known as the Kennebec Highlands to other areas in the Belgrade Lakes watershed that are not frequently visited, but are valuable resources to the region.  We will continue work to refine our understanding of the geology, both the bedrock and surficial components, and will lead to the development of a regional geologic map of the watershed.  These maps will be available for distribution to the public.

To further enhance the community outreach of this aspect of the project, we plan to develop a series of hands on laboratory style activity modules that can be used by local K-12 teachers in the instruction of the geology components of the Maine Learning Goals for science.  These modules will utilize local Earth materials for the instruction of minerals and rocks, local geographic features of the watershed will be used to illustrate landforms using topographic maps and Google Earth, and gravel, sand and clay from the area to demonstrate porosity and permeability of these resources.  Module kits will be produced that can be left in local classrooms or checked out for use.  Kits will be offered to local summer camps for use in the instruction of conservation and natural history components of their programs.  Finally, the proposed in-class units will be further supported by 2012 edition of the New Lake Book (currently being revised by Shannon and Jaques) and COLA online resources for teachers (currently being re-organized and transferred from Earl Morse site to COLA site by Mack) with field testing by members of the Belgrades SSP team.

IX.  Maine Lakes Conference 2011: Based on the success of the 41th Maine Lakes Conference (2011), Colby College will host the 2012 Maine COLA meeting on June 23rd. The conference will be co-sponsored by Colby’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and the Maine Congress of Lake Associations.  All collaborators will participate in the full-day conference. Maine COLA’s statewide network of lake associations, regional lake stewardship groups and individual members customarily attend the conference along with professional lake managers, state agency personnel, and county Soil and Water Conservation Districts staff.   Experts will present information and strategies for maintaining and improving water quality with an emphasis on individual and group stewardship, policy implementation and enforcement, and innovative outreach and school learning programs.  A poster session open to all SSP/SSI student partners will be organized.  Year III outcomes from the work proposed above will be presented to a statewide stakeholder group to facilitate broad dissemination as well as planning for Year IV-V.

X. Citizen Engagement in Conservation Action: Co-PIs Wall, Nyhus, Shannon, and their students – Expanding on our LakeSmart studies, we are trying to understand how to “get” citizen groups to incorporate conservation practices into their lifestyles using Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change.  We will meet with community members, members of conservation groups, owners of rental properties, realtors, town planning board members, and code enforcement officers to determine where they fit into the Stages of Change scale.   These studies will inform processes for dynamic change that will address each level of decision-making in order to broaden acceptance for the best practices of conservation (Prochaska et al. 1994).  We will also be evaluating the Ten Step Method of Implementing Social Marketing Campaigns described by Wilbur  (Wilbur, 2006) to help develop effective methods to get people to adopt beneficial lifestyle changes to improve water quality.   We are especially interested in being able to reach groups who don’t necessarily identify themselves as environmentalists.

Management Plan:  Miselis Professor of Chemistry Whitney King will serve as the project leader for Year III.  The Colby SSP group held monthly, open dinner meetings with SSP investigators and community stakeholders throughout the first two years of the project.  We also maintained an active web page that details events and helps to disseminate results from the project.  These management activities will continue throughout the duration of the grant.  We are particularly pleased by the way this project has evolved from a series of well-defined questions on lake biogeochemistry in Year I to broader questions of coupled social-ecological structures in Year III.   This transition in our work is due, in no small part, to extensive collaboration among the Colby faculty/students, conservation collaborators, and an extensive stakeholder network.   A central management goal for Year III is to strengthen and expand these collaborations.

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Supported by National Science Foundation awardEPSCoR

#EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

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