At Tuesday’s meeting of the Raymond Board of Selectmen, Betty Williams of the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District summarized the accomplishments of Phase I of the Thomas Pond Conservation Project, which was completed this year, and introduced the objectives of Phase II.

Thomas Pond, a 442-acre pond located in Raymond and Casco, has a direct watershed of 4.5 square miles and is part of the Sebago Lake Watershed as well. Its shore, which stretches 7.5 miles, are lined with over 300 homes.

Monitoring of the pond over the last 25 years shows a significant depletion of dissolved oxygen in deep areas. These oxygen levels are affected by polluted runoff containing phosphorus. The phosphorus contributes to excess algae growth, which causes a drop in water clarity and oxygen levels.

This drop can ultimately ruin fish habitats and produce algae blooms, causing lakefront property values to plummet.

As project manager for Phase I of the Conservation Project, Williams pursued the District’s goal to “improve and protect the water quality of Thomas Pond” by educating the public, offering technical assistance, and providing “on-the-ground fixes” of shoreline roads.

The process began in 2000 with an independent survey of the watershed, organized by the Thomas Pond Improvement Association, the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. They identified 125 erosion sites around the lake. Each of these sites was rated for its impact on water quality, repair cost, and the level of difficulty to repair. Most were found to be easily correctable at a low cost.

The survey found that 59 percent of polluted runoff occurred at residential sites, 22 percent from private roads. Other sites identified included town roads, beaches and boat launches.

After securing a grant of $46,000 through the Federal Clean Water Act, the Conservation District began to implement their Phase I programs.

Part of the education piece included two “Cruise the Buffers” workshops – the first in 2003 and the second the following year – that hosted a total of 34 people. These pontoon boat cruises gave lakeshore residents a chance to learn more about attractive and effective buffers to protect the lake from runoff and erosion.

The second piece of Phase I provided technical assistance to many lakefront landowners. Upon request from the owners, Williams visited properties, assessing their need for improvements to buffer zones, and then made specific recommendations, followed up with a written report and site sketch.

An incentive was offered to lakefront property owners in the form of a matching funds program of up to $100.

The third part to Phase I involved the correction of road sites, including Watkins Shores Road, Thomas Pond Shores Road, Thomas Pond Terrace, and Quaker Ridge Road.

Among other things, the projects improved culverts, cleaned and created ditches and installed buffering riprap to prevent further erosion.

When contacted by phone, Williams said, “Phase I was amazing. It was such a good community to work in. Everybody I was in contact with really cares – they want to do the right thing.”

After giving an overview of Phase I at the meeting, Williams introduced Phase II.

The second phase, scheduled to start in April, 2006 and last for two years, begins where the first phase left off.

The Conservation District has pinpointed 35 sites to receive attention, including nine road sites, one high-impact boat launch, one high-impact trail/four-wheel-drive site, one medium-impact beach site and 23 residential sites.

Once again they will offer technical assistance and a matching funds program of up to $100 to lakefront property owners.

But in this phase, Williams is particularly excited about the new Watershed Stewards Program.

Available to 20 volunteers, the program, offered through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, will provide eight weeks of training and will include different speakers teaching on such topics as friendly lake living and lakeshore septic issues.

After 20 hours of training, the volunteers will give back 20 hours to the community.

Partners in Phase II of the Thomas Pond Conservation Project are the Thomas Pond Improvement Association, the towns of Raymond and Casco, the Portland Water District, Raymond Waterways Protective Association, the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation District, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

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