Brook assessors John Field and Kristin Feindel observe a brook emerging from the culverts that take it under the runway at Brunswick Executive Airport. Contributed photo

The following column is the 7th in a series about our Mare/Mere Brook Watershed. December 6th’s Brunswick Town Council meeting will include a presentation of a watershed improvement plan from the Mare Brook Steering Committee. The plan recommends ways to attain a watershed-wide Class B stream designation, a significant upgrade from Mare Brook’s current “urban-impaired” status. Interested citizens are encouraged to tune in. Detailed information about the watershed and plan may be found at brunswickme.org/233/Mare-Brook-Watershed-Planning

For those of us who have worked on the Mare/Mere Brook watershed plan, this slim waterway has become a presence. And a few of us — well, one at least — make regular visits to talk to and with it. Water-talk isn’t as unusual as it may sound; brooks do, after all, babble. And so, it turns out, do I.

On this November day, down in a Meadowbrook gully, I ask, “What’s the brook-news?” And I hear in return about the recent rains, the chill settling out of the nights, and the passages of foxes, deer, raccoons, opossums, and even the rumor of returning moose and bear. “They’re here…or near,” the brook says, and I bend at a crossing to read their print-script.

“What about your oxygen level?” I ask. DO, or dissolved oxygen in brook-speak, is vital to life within, and the brook’s monitors measure it regularly. “Okay, it’s okay. Summer can be tough, when I shrink and grow warmer, but this year’s rains kept me going, flowing.” The brook answers further by sending two fingerling trout through the little pool beneath my feet.

“Could do with a little less runoff, however. When it rains hard, the water just pours off the roads and lots and into me, carrying all sorts of stuff. That clouds me, and it washes away colonies of my little critters [macroinvertabrates].”

“Yes,” I say, “I can see how that happens. There’s so much tarmac and roof-slough around you that the rain can’t soak through; instead it runs off to find you. We’re going to try to help some your neighbors figure out plantings and pitches that absorb or slow this runoff.

“So, I have a question for you,” the brook says. “During the open months when it rains, I often get washes of lawn stuff. Sometimes it gives me a case of the algae, which I don’t like. Then there are the poisons that get into everything. The birds tell me that some of you are avid about having one kind of grass only. What’s that all about?”

“O,” I say, “that’s part of our lawn culture. In some green lawns, each grass blade is like the next. Everything else gets called a weed.”

“Sort of dull, isn’t that?” the brook asks. Not to mention toxic as you try to kill the weeds. All that stuff ends up in me. And, of course, I end up in the sea.”

“Here’s my question,” I say, as I settle in for a stay: “I just looked at a study of your ‘shed, and it shows 28 culverts that pipe you from one place to the next, usually beneath a road. And there’s even one that goes underground for 3/4ths of a mile at the air field. What’s your take on these pipes?”

Mere Brook ripples in response, “Whoa, they mess with flow.”

I get it — almost invariably when Mere Brook’s full, culverts are too small for the volume that wants to pass; upstream from a culvert, there’s usually ponding. Which, in warm weather, soon overheats, stagnates, goes low on DO. On the other side, once that pent-up water gets into the culvert, it often rushes, scouring downstream from where it drops from the pipe. Scouring becomes erosion, washed away habitat, sediment-choked water. Engineers assessing these 28 culverts say that a majority are brook-problems.

“I do worry about what’s ahead,” says the brook quietly. “The salt season’s coming. Once the salt’s in me, we can’t get it out.”

Brooks read landscapes, of course, but they can’t read words, and so I go in search of some research. The commonly cited figure about salt in fresh water is that 1 teaspoon of salt pollutes 5 gallons of water. And that reminds me of millions of granules of salt I walk and drive over in a Maine winter. Scattered against slippage, even at the slightest snow-provocation, our salt habit needs reconsideration, I think. The brook merely gurgles concurrence.

I’ve got it,” I say enthusiastically, “overall, we should be moderate with what we let flow into you.”

“Sure, sure,” the brook chuckles under some downed wood, “sure, putting people and moderate in the same sentence. That’s a good one.”

A trifle deflated, I look up; the sky seems to agree. But the light encourages. “Well, we’re planning and we’ll try,” I say to the brook, who flashes through a slat of light, lets the fish know it’s safe to emerge.

“I’ll be here,” the brook says. And I say, “yes, we count on that.”

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chair of the town’s Conservation Commission, and a member of Brunswick Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: