By ANGELO J. VERZONI

Staff Writer 

BIDDEFORD — Thatcher Brook flows south from Biddeford into Arundel, before turning northeast and flowing back into Biddeford, where it empties into the Saco River and, eventually, Saco Bay.

For a number of years, the brook’s water quality has not been up to par, failing to meet standards set by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection; for example, its phosphorus levels are too high, and there’s too much bacteria in certain areas. This has resulted in the brook not being able to support the aquatic life it should be able to.

But earlier this month, a plan to improve Thatcher Brook’s water quality through the implementation of various projects over the course of 20 years was finalized. The 252-page plan is the result of nearly three years of research and $120,000 in funding, which was split evenly between the DEP and the city. The plan was drafted by the Biddeford and Arundel planning departments and the York County Soil and Water Conservation District, among other groups.

There is, however, one caveat: Before any work can actually begin, more money must be acquired through DEP or EPA grants, which often have to be matched by the city. But securing funds is not the immediate concern for those who have been involved in crafting the plan, Jennie Franceschi, the city’s planning engineer, said on Thursday.

The goals for the upcoming year are simply to educate citizens and city officials about the issues at hand, said Franceschi, as well as form a workgroup that can eventually take control of the projects.

“The first big thing that we need to do is to develop a workgroup, and that workgroup’s task will be to implement the plan,” she said. “We also need to educate the public and educate the City Council on the importance of this.”

Franceschi stressed that at this point, the brook is not beyond recuperation, which is good news in more ways than one. Although Thatcher Brook is currently listed as an “impaired stream” by the state, it is not yet listed as an “urban impaired stream,” which is a higher level of impairment, she explained. But if it were to get worse and reach that point, the city as well as property developers and landowners would be facing mandates from the state to keep the brook from being harmed ”“ a situation that would prove costly to many.

“We’re hoping these projects will improve the health of the brook, and we want to avoid getting put on that urban impaired streams list,” said Franceschi, adding that the plan has all along been a means of being proactive versus being reactive.

“Instead of regulations being forced upon the city and landowners, they want to be proactive and start working on it for themselves now, in a way that they think would be the best approach to restoring the stream,” Wendy Garland of the DEP said on Friday, referring to those who have been involved in creating the plan.

So, provided things move forward as anticipated, what can residents who live within the Thatcher Brook watershed, which encompasses roughly five square miles of land in Biddeford and nearly three square miles of land Arundel, expect?

Franceschi said most of the projects slated for the next two decades would focus on reducing the amount of phosphorus in the brook. Phosphorus accumulates after water running off of lawns, roads and other surfaces enters the brook.

“Phosphorous washes off those surfaces, gets into the brook and ends up causing algae issues,” she said. “The whole biology of the brook ends up getting messed with.”

Restoring natural buffers to block that runoff is one way to reduce phosphorus levels, she said. This would be especially helpful in the area where the brook flows underneath the turnpike, as there is little buffer there; water from the brook has in the past even flooded over the turnpike entirely.

Installing “under-drain filters” is another way to reduce phosphorus levels, she said. These filters would essentially catch runoff, filtering it to reduce the amount of phosphorus in it, before letting it continue to flow into the brook. Lastly, she said, asking private landowners to create “no-mow” zones in areas near Thatcher Brook could reduce the amount of phosphorus-laced runoff flowing into it from fertilized lawns.

In addition to making changes to properties that are already within the brook’s watershed, Franceschi said she hopes the city will be cognizant of these issues as it continues to revitalize its downtown area.

“I know the city wants to continue to move forward economically, but we can do so in an environmentally responsible manner,” she said. For example, if parking lots were to be put in near the brook, measures should be made to limit the amount of runoff that would enter the water, said Franceschi.

In the coming weeks, she said, the City Council will hear a presentation on the plan, which is officially named the Thatcher Brook Watershed Management Plan, and the topic of receiving further funding will likely be broached.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



        Comments are not available on this story.