BIDDEFORD — Thatcher Brook, a Saco River tributary, is in trouble. Plagued by pollution, it has been listed as an impaired stream by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

This has implications for the over 900 families and businesses that reside in the Thatcher Brook watershed, an area that encompasses seven square miles in Arundel and Biddeford.

In an effort to restore water quality in Thatcher Brook, the City of Biddeford, in partnership with the York County Soil and Water District and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, hired the environmental consulting firm GZA GeoEnvironmental to develop a Watershed Management Plan.

This plan identified major threats to water quality in Thatcher Brook, and developed goals to lessen the impact of those threats. Three main goals emerged from the Thatcher Brook Watershed Management Plan. These goals were 1) taking action to ensure that Thatcher Brook water meets State water quality standards, 2) adopt measures to protect and maintain water quality at the state standard, and 3) increase community awareness and involvement in the preservation of water quality and other natural resources in the Thatcher Brook Watershed.

Action items to address the goal of meeting state water quality standards in Thatcher Brook include retrofitting stormwater drains, updating or replacing failing culverts, and improving and restoring riparian buffer zones along the banks of Thatcher Brook. Though these efforts are costly, with potential to amount to nearly $500,000, they are necessary actions to restore water quality in Thatcher Brook.

In addition to these management actions, there are many steps that community members can take to help improve the water quality in Thatcher Brook. Polluted water in Thatcher Brook does not only impact those who live in the watershed, but affects anyone who values clean water. The city has been proactive in efforts to ensure healthy waters for its residents in implementation of best management practices or actions that reduce water pollution.

All residents can help to reduce pollutants and do their part in cleaning up their local water bodies. The YardSmart Program, an initiative developed by the Biddeford Conservation Commission, informs residents on how to transition to a healthier lawn care regimen. When homeowners move away from chemical lawn care products they can help reduce the amount of pollutants that runoff into local waterways.

Furthermore, the commission, which has accepted the lead responsibility, is working to spread the word about the pollution in Thatcher Brook in an effort to get residents excited about improving the water quality in their own backyards. They conducted a direct mail campaign to Biddeford residents who live in the Thatcher Brook watershed.

The mailing described the problem and outlined different measures individuals can take to help keep their local waters clean and pollutant free. These include best practices for lawn care, planting trees and bushes (especially in areas adjacent to water bodies), and ensuring that properties have healthy septic systems. Everyone has the ability to help improve the water quality in Thatcher Brook, Saco River, Saco Bay and beyond.

This fall, the Biddeford Conservation Commission has plans to engage with area schools in the classroom to educate local youths about the issues of water quality, using Thatcher Brook as a case study. The commission also hopes to establish a watershed-themed art contest for younger grades and an essay contest for high schoolers.

Building upon its successful collaboration with the University of New England’s water class, the commission will continue to involve local university students in the regional issue of Thatcher Brook. This partnership allows university students to engage with the local community and help spread the word about the importance of clean waters in our region.

The commission will continue its mission of informing residents about the Thatcher Brook Watershed outside of the classroom through a number of different campaigns. One such effort will be the installation of watershed signs on the border of the Thatcher Brook Watershed.

The BCC will also work with local community groups such as the Boy Scouts of America to increase the resident’s awareness of the importance of clean water quality and the issues in the Thatcher Brook Watershed.

Those interested in helping can learn more about what to do to improve local water quality on the Biddeford Conservation Commission website: biddefordmaine.org/conservation.