2016-09-15 / Letters

Studies show that tributary of Saco River is in trouble

To the editor:

Thatcher Brook, a tributary of the Saco River, has been listed as an impaired stream by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Brooks, streams, rivers and other water bodies are deemed impaired when pollution rises to harmful levels. Under the Clean Water Act, when a water body is found to be impaired, management actions to reduce pollution and improve water quality are mandated. In the case of Thatcher Brook, the city of Biddeford has already paid an environmental consulting firm $65,000 to develop the Thatcher Brook Watershed Management Plan to address this pollution problem. Unfortunately, pollution levels in Thatcher Brook are so high that it is likely that remediation of this issue will cost the city up to $500,000.

Though not as recognizable as the Saco River, Thatcher Brook is an important tributary in a complex environmental system. The Thatcher Brook watershed encompasses more than 7 square miles, of which 2.7 square miles is heavily polluted. Originating in a Biddeford wetland west of Andrews Road, Thatcher Brook travels into Arundel, back into Biddeford, (crossing the Maine Turnpike twice), and empties into the Saco River upstream of the dam. From there, Thatcher Brook waters ultimately reach Saco Bay.

As is often the case in southern Maine, much of the local economy in Biddeford depends on clean water. Polluted water from Thatcher Brook makes its way into Saco Bay where tourists (and Maine residents) choose to recreate in and on our coastal waters. Lobstermen and other fishermen and women also rely on clean waters in Saco Bay to make a livelihood and deliver fresh seafood to local restaurants and stores. If not effectively addressed, the polluted waters of Thatcher Brook will put our coastal water quality at risk.

The main cause of pollution in Thatcher Brook is runoff. Runoff occurs when rain falls on the land and washes pollutants, such as road salt, lawn fertilizers and pesticides, vehicle leakage and animal waste into our surface waters. Runoff is especially damaging when there are large areas of impervious surfaces in a watershed. Impervious surfaces are hardened surfaces such as concrete and asphalt that do not allow water to soak into the earth. Instead, water hits the ground and quickly travels over impervious surfaces, picking up pollutants along the way, and flowing into culverts, storm water drains, streams, brooks, rivers and eventually the bay.

The Biddeford Conservation Commission has been working hard to ensure that proper steps are taken in the effort to decrease pollution and restore water quality in Thatcher Brook. This group is chairman of the Thatcher Brook Management Workgroup and includes representatives from city departments, the Arundel Town Planner, Department of Transportation, Maine Turnpike Authority, Department of Environmental Protection, York County Soil and Water District, University of New England and the Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative. In July, the commission sent out 955 information packets to all Biddeford residents who live in the Thatcher Brook Watershed, detailing the extent of the pollution problem in their backyards. Additionally, the commission outlined various actions residents can take as individuals to help combat the issue of pollution in Thatcher Brook and to help ensure that clean water is available to all. Water pollution in Thatcher Brook isn’t just a problem for those who reside in the watershed, it is a problem for anyone who values clean water, in Thatcher Brook, Saco River, Saco Bay and beyond.

Tom Craven and Ken Buechs Biddeford Conservation Commission

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