Thanks to Merritt Blakeslee for contributing this article!
West Harbor Pond in Boothbay Harbor is not your ordinary Maine lake. It came into being in 1880 when an entrepreneur dammed the mouth of Campbell’s Cove, a tidal saltwater estuary of Boothbay Harbor, for use as an ice pond. To render the impounded water suitable for making natural ice, a 10-inch cast-iron siphon was installed to evacuate the saltwater.
Normal freshwater lakes experience seasonal turnover that reoxygenates the deoxygenated water below the thermocline, ensuring the health of the aquatic environment. Until recently, however, West Harbor Pond did not experience this turnover because it had never been completely free of saltwater.
Route 27 causeway at lower end of West Harbor Pond with 1880 siphon (red) and 2018 replacement siphon (orange)
West Harbor Pond consists of a lower basin with a maximum depth of 25’ and an upper basin with a maximum depth of 37’, divided by a ridge with a depth of 18’. Because the intake of the 1880 siphon reached only to a depth of about 15’, the saltwater below that depth was not removed. This saltwater, being denser than the freshwater that the Pond receives from its tributaries, accumulates at the bottom, where its greater density prevented seasonal turnover and reoxygenation of the Pond. Thus, even during the period when the 1880 siphon was operating, the water below the 15-foot level remained entirely deoxygenated. Moreover, the Pond receives regular infusions of saltwater, which floods into the Pond in large quantities during king tides when the water from the inner harbor overtops the small dam in the box culvert.
In 2008, the 1880 siphon fractured, and thereafter the water in the upper level of the Pond began to deteriorate, with rising salinity and decreasing oxygen. In 2013, the West Harbor Pond Watershed Association, formed in 2009 with the mission of protecting and preserving the Pond, made the connection between this deterioration and the broken siphon and began testing the water column for salinity and dissolved oxygen. Their testing showed that below 15’ the Pond was a dead zone, its water highly saline, completely deoxygenated, and permeated with hydrogen sulfide, the natural product of vegetative decay in an anoxic environment. And the WHPWA feared that, with the failure of the 1880 siphon, the interface between the oxygenated and deoxygenated water was gradually rising.
The Association appealed to the state and municipal governments to repair the 1880 siphon, but to no avail. The State argued that it did not own the siphon – even though it ran through the dam that supported State Route 27 – and had no responsibility for repairing it. The Town argued that, because the Pond has no public beach or boat launch, it would be improper to devote public monies to what was, in its view, a private community.
In 2016, the Boothbay Region Water District generously offered to donate used six-inch high-density polyethylene water pipe, and the labor to fuse it, for use in the construction of a replacement siphon, provided that the WHPWA hire an engineering firm to draw up plans for the new siphon. The next year the WHPWA, with the support of the Town of Boothbay Harbor, received a Coastal Communities grant from the Maine Coastal Program of the Department of Agriculture to cover the engineering costs. In 2018, with the plans and permits in hand, the WHPWA launched a fund-raising campaign that netted over $60,000 in private donations from the Boothbay community in a matter of three months to replace the broken siphon.
The replacement siphon was installed in the winter of 2018-2019. Its intake is located at a depth of 25’, the deepest point of the lower basin. A page describing the five-year effort to replace the broken siphon can be found on the Pond Association's website at https://www.westharborpond.org/the-siphon-1. This page also contains a photo-essay titled “Green Dye on the Water” chronicling the siphon’s installation (last item on webpage).
This is an excerpt from Merritt Blakeslee’s article on West Harbor Pond.
READ the full story & see more photos of this pond HERE!.
Jeremy Deeds (Maine DEP)
Consider the two lakes in the photographs above. The one on the left is smaller and shallower with abundant aquatic plant growth. The lake on the right is larger, deeper, and aquatic plants grow sparsely in isolated sections along its shore. Different as they are, these lakes share similarities, too. They are both found in largely undeveloped watersheds and have naturally vegetated shorelands. Since they are both in watersheds with minimal human-induced changes to the landscape, should we expect them to have similar water quality conditions? Now imagine that each lake had 100% of its shoreland area converted to residential house lots, manicured lawns, hundreds of septic tanks, and a network of dirt roads. How would the water quality in these lakes change? Would they both change in the same way, or would we expect these lakes to respond to those land use modifications differently?
Drive approximately 270 miles west from Bethel, Maine, and you will come to the Adirondack Park, 6.1 million acres that contain more than 10,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and an estimated 200,000 acres of old-growth forest. In an excellent video about Adirondack lake science, researchers describe how they have been sampling hundreds of lakes in the Park using a custom-built twin-prop float plane. They also explain how wetlands, upland vegetation communities and atmospheric pollution (nitrogen, especially) influence lake water chemistry.
This well-produced video is a great introduction to some facets of lake science - ecosystem processes that are as relevant to Maine lakes as they are to the lakes of upstate New York.
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