Dam Keepers Cooperate to Keep Local Lake Levels Right
July 01, 2009 -
WINDHAM -- As of Sunday, the water level on Little Sebago Lake was subsiding from the recent rains, but not by much. With some 8 inches of rain falling in June, the lake was still a good 3 inches above the summer target level.
Bruce Micucci is dam keeper for the 1,900-acre lake, which stretches from the northern sections of Gray down to Windham. With the dam currently about halfway open, he could have brought the level down quickly to the Department of Environmental Protection's mandated 289 feet above sea level merely by opening the floodgates.
However, the many folks at Collins Pond directly downstream likely wouldn't have appreciated that. Everything from septic systems and basements to wildlife and roads would have suffered.
"These heavy rains we've had can bring the lake up very fast," said Micucci. "One inch of rain equals 2 inches of rise in lake level. There's not a lot you can do other than coordinate with the folks downstream."
Little Sebago Lake, Mill Pond and Collins Pond are part of a waterway that stretches some 10 miles before dumping into the Pleasant and then Presumpscot Rivers in Windham where it continues on to Casco Bay.
By "downstream," Micucci is referring to the next manned dam located at Collins Pond, a much smaller 42-acre body of water. In between those two dams is Mill Pond. But this tiny pond requires no dam keeper; its gate is set at a fixed level.
Down from here, Rodger Patterson and a couple of alternate keepers, Reid Scher and Con Fullam, are on the receiving end of Little Sebago's volume and tend the Collins Pond dam. This has been wide open trying to catch up for about a month now.
"Once we open all the way, if they (Little Sebago) don't open too much more were OK," says Patterson. "We've found it's the right mix with them open about 50 percent and ours wide open."
The Little Sebago and Collins Pond dam keepers coordinate with each other via telephone and e-mail to achieve a balance. Both dam keeper positions are strictly volunteer with no compensation.
"Somebody's got to step up and take on the responsibility," said Patterson. "Like a private road, the town doesn't oversee any of this." Instead, each lake environmental association privately owns the dams.
Both Patterson and Micucci belong to their respective lake associations and are conscious of the water quality on the shore where they both live year-round. They say the job of dam keeper is not just seasonal. Winter and summer levels differ, and the local keeper must work to achieve these mandated targets.
In 1982, Micucci said, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection came up with certain measurements for his lake, based on high tide at Casco Bay. But because Collins Pond is a much smaller water body, its level is not set by the state.
Winter levels are typically about 2 feet lower, not only because there is less runoff, but also to guard against ice eroding the shore and damaging trees.
"Generally, our summer level is from April 15 to Oct. 15," said Micucci. "In the winter months, the dam is open and we try to get the level down as low as we can."
If you're curious about what's going on with the level on Little Sebago, you can join the forum on the Little Sebago Lake Association's Web site.
Micucci says the DEP also requires Little Sebago to have an emergency preparedness plan in place should a catastrophic event such as the rainstorm of October 1996 occur, during which about 10 inches of rain fell on the Portland area. Little Sebago rose to nearly 2 feet above the summer high.
Micucci said the old Little Sebago dam actually did breach back in 1918, dropping the lake about 10 feet and flooding much of the downstream area. But development was not as heavily built up as it is today.
"We update our action plan every year and file it with the Maine Emergency Management Association," said Micucci. "There are people, my son Chris included, that in the case of emergency would notify folks downstream on our call list."
Micucci was appointed to the job by the Little Sebago Lake Association a few years after he moved to the area in the early 1980s. The dam is just feet from his house.
Patterson, a resident on Collins Pond for about the same amount of time, has been dam keeper for about a year and must walk or drive about a mile from his home to reach the dam.
"It's a good way to get involved with your neighbors," Patterson said.
Maybe summer will arrive later this month.
DON PERKINS, Portland Pres Herald, July 1, 2009
Lakes: Little Sebago Lake
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