The recent pair of stories by Seth Harkness (“Wild sides of cityscapes,” July 2) are a joyous celebration of the wonders of water experiences to be had throughout urban Maine.
In fact, Maine’s rivers offer unparalleled opportunities throughout the state for inexpensive exposure to the best that nature has to offer. That these experiences can be had in the middle of a city like Portland says that nature and development can occupy the same space.
But it’s not a free ride. The many advantages of modern technology come with associated high cost. The millions of cars traveling throughout Maine each summer produce significant quantities of air pollution, much of which ends up deposited into rivers, streams and ponds.
Manufacturing, forest harvesting, agriculture, motor vessel traffic and other activities contribute more toxics to these waters. And the continuous expansion of housing and retail development not only produces urban sprawl, encroaching on these liquid byways, but generates more pollution. It includes treated and untreated sewage combined with sediment, the gill-fouling enemy of fish and other aquatic residents.
When early explorers reached our coasts, rivers were the original highways from the seas to the trees and other resources. As towns and cities attracted more and more people, these water bodies became the most convenient place to dump sewage, industrial waste and garbage.
It’s tough to break these old habits. Legislation such as the Clean Water Act has produced great progress since the days of rivers that burned and were choked and blackened by mill waste and raw sewage.
And the dam-removal movement has begun to improve habitat and recreational opportunities by creating more miles of free-flowing rivers. But many serious problems remain to be dealt with.
So, what to do? One answer is to be found in the work of organizations such as the Friends of Casco Bay, whose Baykeeper program works tirelessly with the Presumpscot Watershed Coalition to protect and restore waters such as the Presumpscot, Fore and Stroudwater rivers.
They have helped to expand clam flats, to protect young lobsters by relocating them during harbor dredging and to use their pumpout vessel to prevent sewage discharge from boats.
And groups such as Maine Rivers advocate for river-friendly legislation throughout the state, building respect for Maine’s waterways among resource managers, towns and the public by assisting in the development of new watershed organizations and through education programs.
Such work on behalf of rivers was the subject of the exciting Waterkeeper Alliance Conference recently held in San Francisco. Representatives of river, bay and soundkeepers around the world met to plot strategy for how best to protect and restore these waterbodies so that they can be used and celebrated by citizens everywhere.
This is the parent organization of the now more than 150 “keeper” programs, each one of which, like the Casco Baykeeper, is a defender of their local waterway.
Land trusts – Maine has nearly 100 – play a major role in protecting the habitats adjacent to our rivers and streams through conservation easements or ownership. Groups like the Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association have saved many miles of river frontage otherwise destined to become housing developments or industrial sites.
The strategy of protecting endangered species such as the Atlantic salmon by restoring their habitat has been extremely successful in other parts of the world.
Waterkeeping is a growth industry, and includes conservation groups such as Friends of Casco Bay, Maine Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Atlantic Salmon Federation or Penobscot River Restoration Trust. Supporting them helps keep Maine waters swimmable, fishable and useable for recreation.