By Jennifer Boothroyd
George J. Mitchell Center for Environmental and Watershed Research
Maine COLA and the Senator George Mitchell Center conducted an extensive survey of Maine lake associations to identify the most important issues for these groups so as to guide the focus of future education and resources. Fifty- seven lake and watershed associations participated in the survey. Their responses yielded interesting results, summarized here.
The first part of the survey asked a series of questions to determine the demographics of participants. There is wide variation in group size, with the majority of responding associations having between 50 and 100 members.
Most organizations are non-profits that meet only once per year, have no paid staff, and the majority are Maine COLA members. Most have a watershed management plan and are not associated with a lake alliance or regional watershed research organization. A majority of the participating organizations publish a newsletter, with the number of issues published yearly varying greatly among the groups.
Learning Programs and Collaborations
The researchers used a series of “yes or no” questions to determine the extent of participation in specific programs. A majority of associations had used the Invasive Plant Patrol Program, slightly more than half had conducted a watershed survey, and slightly less than half of the participants said they run Courtesy Boat Inspections. Fewer respondents have taken advantage of DEP’s LakeSmart, University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Watershed Stewards Program, or a gravel road workshop from Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
The survey also sought to identify how often associations collaborate with towns and other groups, and on which projects. The majority indicated that they had worked with towns.
Data Access, Information, and Interpretation
The third part of the survey asked what types of information are being used by watershed associations, how it is being accessed, and who is helping with the interpretation.
- Most of the participants indicated that they are familiar with the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program (VLMP), and that they had a VLMP lake quality monitor.
- More than half indicated that they had a water quality monitor other than one from VLMP, and the majority use water quality data collected for their lake(s).
- The most popular sources for the data included VLMP, publications, and water quality monitors. Just over half indicated that they have received help analyzing the data in the past, most commonly from VLMP, DEP, or another professional.
- More than half also indicated that they have used the internet to obtain lake information, and the most popular sites included PEARL, and the COLA, VLMP, and DEP sites.
- Invasive plants, stormwater runoff, and poor enforcement of lake protection laws came out on top of the list of issues most important to lake associations.
- When asked what topics their groups would like more information on, participants ranked basic lake science, information about lake plants and animals, and ways to improve lake water quality as their top choices.
- They also indicated that recruiting and managing volunteers, increasing membership, and creating successful community outreach were key management issues with which they could use assistance.
- Participants indicated that the most helpful types of tools and resources that could be offered to them would be a translation of lake data into layman’s terms, water quality data summaries for their lakes, and workshops and training; they indicated on-site training, printed material, and regional meetings as the most valuable methods of disseminating this information.