2012-10-05 / Front Page

Upstream battle

Volunteers get hands dirty to help Trout Brook
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


Workers from the city of South Portland and volunteers breached a manmade berm along the bank of Trout Brook on Friday, Sept. 28 to allow the brook to access a floodplain when storms cause the water levels to rise. The work is part of what Fred Dillon of Water Resources Protection called a “modest but meaningful” project to restore the water quality of Trout Brook. (Marc Filippino photo) Workers from the city of South Portland and volunteers breached a manmade berm along the bank of Trout Brook on Friday, Sept. 28 to allow the brook to access a floodplain when storms cause the water levels to rise. The work is part of what Fred Dillon of Water Resources Protection called a “modest but meaningful” project to restore the water quality of Trout Brook. (Marc Filippino photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Fred Dillon sat against the back of a truck bed, his boots, jeans and T-shirt splashed with mud. He, along with a handful of other volunteers, had just finished work for the day to restore Trout Brook, a stream he said suffered a “death by 1,000 cuts.”

Dillon is the stormwater program coordinator with the city of South Portland’s Water Resources Protection department. For the last two years he has worked to erase the brook’s label of “impaired” that the Maine Department of Enivronmental Protection (DEP) applied because Trout Brook does not meet the state’s water quality standards.

Dillon and educators from Portland Water District helped a group of middle school students release baby brook trout into the stream in May. At the beginning of the week the students spent there, Dillon showed them an oil spill nearby. By the end of the week, rain had washed the spill into the water.

The issues that affect the brook’s water quality didn’t appear overnight. Dillon said the slow buildup of the residential area around the brook, and the rooftops and parking lots that came with that development, negatively impacted water quality.

“You go back 40 years and the watershed was a lot less developed. Now, this is a really highly developed residential area,” Dillon said.

To improve the water quality and promote more aquatic wildlife in the stream, the city and volunteers took on a series of what Dillon called “modest but meaningful” projects over the week of Sept. 24 at Trout Brook, which runs from Casco Bay near Mill Creek to Mitchell Road in Cape Elizabeth.

They cleared rocks from a section of the brook that acted as a dam to increase the flow of water and the oxygen levels of the stream.

At various points along the brook, they also placed upside down tree roots into the water. Those provide a habitat for macroinvertebrates to live. Those bugs then serve as both the bottom rung of the aquatic food chain, as well as a useful barometer of the health of the stream itself.

Dillon called the tiny bugs “canaries in the coal mine.” According to the Cumberland County Soil & Water Conservation’s website, their response to chemical pollution or physical disturbances can help identify what the problems are with the brook.

Finally, Dillon and others worked to breach a small portion of manmade berm in Trout Brook. That will help the stream access the floodplain when its water level rises during a rainstorm, which will reduce flooding and erosion downstream.

A variety of individuals and organizations have helped in the work efforts on Trout Brook. Volunteers from the South Portland Land Trust have worked to improve both the brook itself and surrounding paths and they added a small footbridge near the entrance to the nature preserve last month.

The Casco Bay Estuary Partnership also provided the city with a $5,000 grant in May to fund improvements to Trout Brook and Kimball Brook, which is also on the DEP’s Urban Impaired Stream list.

The process to improve Trout Brook started, said Wendy Garland of the DEP, when she walked along the brook last year with Matt Craig of the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership to identify the problems that were preventing wildlife from flourishing in the stream.

They noticed problems from grass growing along the embankment to rocks damming up the flow of the stream to a cluster of branches and rocks near the stream’s culvert. The grant funded the recent work and a project to install a series of step pools near the culvert that will improve the flow of the stream. Garland said the exact date to install those step pools is unknown, but the project has taken on added importance because the step pools will be directly in front of the newly installed footbridge.

Craig said the community’s involvement in the work at Trout Brook made it an easy project for the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership to support, and he hopes surrounding communities follow South Portland’s example.

“One of the reasons the estuary partnership was so attracted to this type of a project was because there’s town and community coming together to steward a resource,” Craig said.

“That’s really what we’re trying to cultivate. South Portland is a city that is interested in stewarding their resources, and bringing people together to do that is to the community’s benefit.”

The South Portland Land Trust will host an opening celebration for the Trout Brook Nature Preserve to show off the work done to both the surrounding trails and the stream. That celebration will take place Saturday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. at the intersection of Marsh Road and Providence Avenue.

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