WINDHAM — The newly-formed Natural Resources Advisory Committee is tackling impaired rivers and streams in town, beginning with testing on the Pleasant River early next month.

Windham has a number of lakes and ponds on the Department of Environmental Protection’s list of those most at-risk from new development, as well as rivers and streams classified as impaired.

Town Councilor and committee member Donna Chapman had been pushing to get the committee off the ground and was finally able to gather enough members in the fall.

“Looking at what we had going on with water quality in the town, I thought, We’ve got to get better at this,” she said.

The seven-member committee, which has met four times since October 2018, is tasked with serving as an advisory committee to the Town Council and chose to begin its work by focusing on Pleasant River.

Dennis Brown, chairman of the committee, said the river has low dissolved oxygen and high E. coli content.

Chapman is concerned because the river is also home to the only known population of brook floater mussels, which are a state-threatened species, in southern Maine.

According to Gretchen Anderson, the town’s environmental and sustainability coordinator, the committee will test for dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity and bacteria.

The committee will work with the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust to collect the samples, which will be sent to the University of Southern Maine for testing.

According to Brown, the sampling will take place every other Saturday for 10 Saturdays from May until September.

Some testing on the river has been completed in the past, so “we’re looking for trends over time,” Brown said.

The committee will then start to work through the river’s watershed management plan, which was completed in 2011 and will expire in 2021.

“We’ll take what has already been completed and see what has been completed, what hasn’t been completed, take this testing and see where some problem areas are that we could possibly remediate,” Anderson said.

Anderson said Pleasant River’s main issue is nonpoint source pollution, including dog waste and poor management of septic systems.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” she said, and education will prove a crucial tool for the committee.

Following the testing, the committee will focus on specific actions that need to be taken, including creating ordinance changes and applying for funding from the DEP for certain projects.

Chapman believes that ordinance changes regarding setbacks will be crucial for maintaining good water quality. She would also like the committee to work on open space and land issues in town as well as preserving Windham’s open space.

“I don’t want to get hung up on just the water quality piece. There’s more to this than water quality,” she said.

Anderson said the committee is not yet at the point of proposing specific actions and would also like to focus on more immediate effects it can have, including education and outreach.

“We want to see if there’s things the town could be implementing already. This is everybody’s responsibility,” she said.

“We need to create some energy around this. If not now, when? We need to take some action,” Brown added.

Eventually, the committee hopes to work on each of the at-risk streams and rivers in town and create a management plan for them all.

“The ultimate goal,” Anderson said, “is to take this town-wide and ensure that our water quality is improving and stable. It’s something that we value, and we want to keep it up as long as possible.”

The committee is looking for volunteers to assist with collecting water samples. Those who are interested can visit www.prlt.org/water-stewards-sign-up.

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at [email protected]

Dennis Brown is chairing Windham’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee.

The committee’s first order of business is addressing poor water quality in Pleasant River.