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China Lake Drawdown Proposal Would Improve Water Quality

April 28, 2013 - Vassalboro-- In an effort to reduce algae blooms, the level of China Lake would be lowered earlier in the fall and by an additional 1.5 feet under a proposal presented to selectmen Thursday.

The Kennebec Water District hopes the new drawdown plan will reduce the lake's phosphorus, which causes poor water quality, increases production costs at the water treatment plant and decreases property values along the lake, according to a report prepared for the water district by Kleinschmidt Associates, an environmental consulting firm based in Falmouth.

Jeff LaCasse, general manager of the water district, told selectmen he plans to take the recommendation to the state Department of Environmental Protection to ask it to amend the water level order most recently modified in 2000.

"It's all about water quality for us," he said.

The report suggests starting the winter drawdown in early October, rather than Nov. 15, and reducing the lake level 1.5 feet lower than usual. It's projected that the change could reduce about one-fifth of the phosphorus now present in the lake.

"It starts pulling the stuff out of the lake when it's in the worst condition," LaCasse said.

Although the report recommends the drawdown change, it encourages the water district to begin raising money so aluminum salts can be added to the lake to reduce the phosphorus much more quickly and effectively. The cost of treating the whole lake would be $2.9 million, while treating just the north and east basins is estimated at $1.1 million.

"That's really the best solution," he said. "It would give you almost instant water quality correction. That's something that would be good to look at if we could find the funding."

Selectmen voted to support the proposal, following action on Monday by the China Board of Selectmen. LaCasse said he doesn't anticipate a lot of opposition from camp owners or sportsmen because most of them will be gone by the October drawdown.

If a drought occurs, the water district will need to monitor lake levels more closely to ensure the levels will return to normal in the spring, he said.

The lake's west basin has been a source of drinking water for Waterville and surrounding towns since 1905, according to the report. Annual algae blooms became a problem in the 1980s, changing the water quality from good to poor. Phosphorus is linked to fertilizer, septic systems, farm animals and road runoff, the report states.

Vassalboro Selectman Philip Haines said changes to the lake would have a much bigger effect in China than in Vassalboro.

"I don't see a problem with it from this town's point of view," he said.

Susan M. Cover, Kennebec Journal, April 2013

Lakes: China Lake
Regions: Belgrade