DEP, Ellsworth aim to reduce pollution in city stream

Posted Jan. 26, 2012, at 6:08 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Improving water quality in a stream running through Ellsworth’s commercial district will take time and forward thinking but can be accomplished in cost-effective ways that also enhance the area’s aesthetics, residents and business owners were told Wednesday.

Few people driving along Route 1 through Ellsworth’s commercial strip likely realize that a brook flows underneath the road, parking lots and strip malls. But by the time Card Brook empties into the Union River estuary near the city’s marina it often has picked up salt, sediment, trash and other pollutants washed off pavement during storms.

For that reason, Card Brook is among roughly 30 brooks and streams around Maine on the state’s latest list of “impaired” water bodies requiring assessments and targeted plans to bring water quality back up to federal standards.

On Wednesday evening, about two dozen people gathered at Ellsworth City Hall to begin discussing the issue as a first step toward eventually developing a plan to improve conditions in the Card Brook watershed.

“This is a long process, and we are not going to be doing this overnight,” Michele Gagnon, Ellsworth’s city planner, told the group. “We are just starting.”

The largest source of pollution into Card Brook is runoff from roads, roofs and parking lots that funnel water into the brook during storms. Card Brook does not meet standards for bacteria, dissolved oxygen and aquatic life.

Although officially designated as an impaired stream, Card Brook is not in as bad shape as streams such as Long Creek near Portland’s Maine Mall and Penjajawoc Stream in the area of Bangor Mall, both of which are the focus of intense restoration efforts.

But speakers said Wednesday that Ellsworth can learn from some of the steps taken in Portland, Bangor and other towns both big and small to avoid worsening the water quality issues in Card Brook.

“We are looking at changing the way we do things,” said LaMarr Clannon, the state coordinator with the Maine NEMO program that helps municipal officials make land use decisions.

Clannon said studies prove that the traditional drainage or stormwater retention ponds are not effective at filtering out pollutants and are often unsightly. Instead, communities and developers are finding success with relatively simple changes such as vegetated islands in parking lots, vegetated strips along streets, living “green roofs” and rain gardens or planters beneath downspouts.

Another developing technology is porous pavement, which allows rain to seep into the specially layered roadbed rather than pool on the surface and run off into nearby streams. Clannon said porous pavement is in use on heavily traveled Maine Mall Road in South Portland.

While many of these techniques cost more, Clannon said many developers and communities found they saved money over the long run because they didn’t have to build retention ponds or other stormwater management systems.

Melissa Evers with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection said the DEP has determined that in order to meet the water quality standards assigned to Card Brook, the watershed would have to reduce stormwater runoff by approximately 14 percent.

Working with the city and community members, the DEP hopes to develop a watershed management plan that will address existing storm water problems and prevent future degradation by use of some of these alternative stormwater management techniques.

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