Lake Value and Vulnerability
Maine lakes are a national treasure. Like magnets, their allure irresistibly draws us to them and makes lakefront property a high value commodity. Most of us know that lakes fuel the business economy of many Maine towns and that lakefront property tax revenues can fund as much as 75% of municipal services, but it may come as a surprise to learn that our 2,314 great ponds generate an astonishing $3.5 billion in economic activity every year! These same great ponds also provide drinking water to half our population, furnish 52,000 jobs, and are visited regularly by 650,000 of Maine residents.
In short, we bank on our lakes. But lakes are fragile. The fate of China Lake will repeat itself statewide unless we realize why China Lake turns green each summer and act to prevent a replay in other locales. The two hundred year history that caused “the China Lake Syndrome” isn’t hard to understand: water always runs downhill, lakes fill low places in our landscapes, and lakes are still waters. Unlike streams and rivers that are renewed minute to minute, lakes don’t run. Consequently, they keep whatever stormwater runoff delivers to them. If that runoff carries soil - and most of it does, the receiving lake gets charged up with nutrients. The nutrients feed microscopic floating plants called algae. Too much of this added nutrition adds up to unpleasant, unwanted algal blooms.
At the beginning of a lake’s decline, the water is just murky, the lake bottom mucky, and more rooted plants are observed, but over time conditions decline enough to threaten recreation, fisheries, and even human health -- the very benefits we bank on lakes to provide. Lake experts call this dismal outcome death by a thousand cuts, and it doesn’t take an expert to see that lakefront market value and water quality rise and fall together. We are more concerned about runoff lately since more and more of our precipitation, 71% of it actually, is arriving by cloudburst, and the growing season in lakes is lengthening.
The LakeSmart Answer
The great good news is we can prevent this damage. We simply need to become smarter about how we handle the land around our lakes. Broad scale education for homeowner and industry is the best way to get there, and now we have a tool, LakeSmart, that can do the job. LakeSmart is a program of the Maine Lakes Society, a 45 year old nonprofit membership organization dedicated to preserving the value and benefits of our lakes.
LakeSmart is voluntary, non-regulatory, and free. It consists of outreach, education, and recognition for lakefront property owners. Interested property owners ask for a property assessment to measure their home’s “Lake IQ.” Properties whose driveways, structures, yards and shorefront capture and manage stormwater on site are given the coveted LakeSmart Award, two distinctive metal signs to post by lake and roadside. Those that don’t, receive a LakeSmart Commendation and best practices recommendations approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and referrals to resources and service providers. LakeSmart leverages the passion of lake communities and the interest of municipalities to implement its lake-saving activity.
A Slim but Winning Margin
Lakeshore land, a sweet spot for the real estate, development, construction, and tourism industries, is pivotal for lake protection. It’s where the interests of these businesses vital to Maine’s economy meet and match the interests of lake conservationists. A recent federal survey of the nation’s lakes pinpointed this small slice of real estate as the primary determinant of a lake’s biological health. It’s a slim margin, that 300 feet adjacent to the high water mark, but it will become the margin of victory for our irreplaceable lakes if lake conservationists and Maine’s business interests join hands to inform homeowners through LakeSmart.
The Maine Lakes Society and the Maine Association of Realtors (MAR) are now working together on homeowner outreach and industry education to better protect Maine lakes through LakeSmart. You can be part of this growing movement. For more information about LakeSmart, or to find out how you can support our partnership, please contact Maggie Shannon, Program Manager for LakeSmart and Lake Advocacy, Maine Lakes Society at 207-405-2301 and firstname.lastname@example.org