Sebago Clean Waters Receives Boost to Protect Forests and Water

Posted May 3, 2018

Portland, ME: Clean drinking water and forest conservation in the Sebago Lake watershed received a boost with a $350,000 grant from the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program to help launch a partnership effort to conserve land that feeds and filters Maine’s largest drinking water supply, provides recreational opportunities, supports local economies, and conserves fish and wildlife habitat and working lands.  The partnership, Sebago Clean Waters, includes the Loon Echo Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Portland Water District, Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and the Highstead Foundation.

Sebago Lake provides drinking water to 200,000+ users in the Greater Portland area. The region’s forests filter water to produce clean drinking water, support local wood products businesses, and offer wide-ranging recreational opportunities like swimming, hiking and fishing. Much of the forest is privately owned and experiencing creeping development pressure. Abundant forests and cold-water lakes and streams in the Sebago Lake watershed provide myriad benefits to Mainers and visitors alike. With only 10% of the 282,000-acre region conserved, the U.S. Forest Service identified the Sebago watershed as the most vulnerable watershed in the Northeast for drinking water.

“Naturally clean water flows downhill from the forested watershed to customers’ taps,” said Paul Hunt, environmental manager for the Portland Water District. “We want to create a way for downstream water users to contribute to the conservation of those critical upstream forests.”  The primary goal of the Sebago Clean Waters initiative is to create a “water fund” so businesses, consumers, and others can help private landowners who are interested in conserving their land. 

The grant funds will enable Sebago Clean Waters to hire a coordinator to engage with communities on their conservation priorities, launch a water fund that will enable downstream water users to invest in upstream land conservation, and work with land trusts to identify landowners interested in conservation.

Currently, water quality in Sebago Lake is so high that the Portland Water District is exempted from federal filtration requirements. Large water users in the Greater Portland area, such as breweries, hospitals, and manufacturing facilities, all benefit from Sebago Lake’s clean water. The filtering action of the forest minimizes chemical use and reduces filtration costs as well as water user fees.

The grant will be matched by over $1.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions from partners and will be administered by Highstead, a regional conservation organization dedicated to conserving the forested landscape of New England.  

The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program focuses on expanding the pace of proactive watershed protection in the U.S. through conservation and improving stewardship of hundreds of thousands of acres of lands that provide drinking water, flood risk reduction, and an array of economic and environmental benefits. The US Environmental Protection Agency co-funds the program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, which manages the partnership.

Maine Coast Heritage Trust Honors Portland Water District with 2018 Espy Land Heritage Award

Sebago Clean Waters partners applaud the Portland Water District for being named the recipient of the 2018 Espy Land Heritage Award by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust.  The Espy Award recognizes an individual, organization, agency or coalition for making outstanding contributions to land conservation while inspiring others.  Environmental services manager Paul Hunt and water resource specialist Laurel Jackson accepted the award on behalf of the Portland Water District.

The Portland Water District engages local land trusts, residents, and municipal officials from towns within the Sebago Lake watershed to protect their water resources through forestland conservation.  In addition to the upper watershed towns benefiting from conserved lands, eleven communities in the Greater Portland region benefit from the clean drinking water that Sebago Lake provides – the protective buffer maintains high water quality without requiring costly chemical filtration.  PWD’s emphasis on community outreach – and particular interest in listening to their constituents needs and concerns throughout the watershed – has led to an innovative  education program and partnerships that recognize the many benefits of conserved lands to their customers and all who live in and visit the watershed. 

With the award comes a $5000 donation to the conservation organization of the recipient’s choice; PWD selected Loon Echo Land Trust and Western Foothills Land Trust to share this donation to advance land protection in the Sebago watershed.

Read the MaineBiz story here.

Allagash Brewery Supports Sebago Clean Waters

Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, understands the importance of clean water to making their award-winning beer. For their first monthly tasting room charity event, they donated all proceeds from beer flights and pours on Black Friday to support Sebago Clean Waters' efforts to protect forest land in the Sebago watershed.. Forests filter water, and Sebago Lake is one of the cleanest water supplies in the nation.  Did you know Allagash beer is made up of 80% Sebago Lake water?! On a recent trip to meet up with the Portland Water District water quality monitoring team,  Allagash staff went out on the lake to learn more about their source water - read about it here on their blog:: The Lake that Makes Allagash.

You can view photos from the event in the Gallery below: