An Introduction to Water Quality
Water quality is the term scientists use to describe the health of a lake and its ability to support a balance of plant and animal life and provide human needs for drinking water and recreation. Some of the ways that scientists measure water quality include taking Secchi depths (to measure water clarity), measuring pH and dissolved oxygen ( both important for fish-life), and observing the number of native plant and animal species (biodiversity). Basically, scientists monitor whether or not all of the necessary ingredients for a healthy lake are always present. This can be difficult, however, because no two lakes are exactly alike and each will have slightly different colors, clarity, and “ingredients” to make it healthy.
A lake in an undeveloped watershed can remain healthy for thousands of years before natural processes disrupt its balance. In comparison, a lake in a developed watershed could remain healthy for as short a time as a few decades. Historically, human development in a watershed has had a large impact on lake health and water quality, but there are some accepted practices that minimize this effect. They include not dumping soaps, detergents, and boat fluids into the lake, maintaining shorefront buffers, and cautious boating habits. The effort to maintain excellent water quality in a lake will not only help wildlife but also benefit the local economy, property values, and recreation purposes. By striking a balance between environmental protection and human use, we can prolong the healthy lives of our lakes and be able to enjoy them for years to come.
- Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program: Maine has over 6,000 lakes and ponds, certainly too many for the Department of Environmental Protection to monitor alone. Instead, they rely on help from hundreds of volunteers to collect Secchi depth measurements and keep an eye out for invasive species.
- PEARL: The PEARL site is maintained by the University of Maine at Orono and provides water quality and geographic information about watersheds across the state.
- Buffer Handbook: Buffers are one of the best ways possible to keep unfiltered runoff out of a lake. The ME Bureau of Land & Water Quality developed a guide to help shore front property owners develop and maintain the best possible buffer.