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Forests at Work to Protect Portland, Maine Water Supply

The 282,000-acre Sebago Lake watershed provides exceptionally clean drinking water to one of every six Maine residents. Many businesses – including more than two dozen Portland-based breweries and distilleries, medical centers, and high-tech companies – rely on this pristine water. Sebago’s water is so pure that it’s among the few public drinking water supplies in the country that doesn’t require chemical filtration. 

Indeed, Sebago Lake is already being filtered – by the forests that surround it. These intact forests act as a natural filter producing clean water for people, as well as for brook trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon, ospreys, and countless other wildlife species. But with only 10 percent of Sebago’s watershed conserved, this is among the region’s most vulnerable water supplies. 

To keep the water clean and forests intact, land trusts, landowners, towns, businesses, and the Portland Water District have come together to conserve key parcels in the watershed, forming Sebago Clean Waters. OSI’s Jennifer Melville is an active member of this coalition. “OSI is excited to be part of this vibrant group, bringing our on-the-ground expertise and identifying and guiding funding to make conservation happen,” Melville says.

Currently, OSI is supporting the Loon Echo Land Trust, The Trust for Public Land (TPL), and the Town of Sebago to conserve the 1,400-acre Tiger Hill property as a Community Forest. OSI’s Community Forest Fund is providing early funding toward a citizen engagement process to determine the best uses and management for this land as the Community Forest is developed. 

“Loon Echo Land Trust is fully engaged with our partner organizations and the town in the acquisition and conservation of this important property,” says Thom Perkins, Loon Echo’s Executive Director, “Over the next decades the public will come to see the continuing benefit of the forward thinking that OSI, TPL, and a host of other organizations and individuals are providing for the public’s benefit.” 

The Sebago Clean Waters  coalition was formed to conserve the watershed’s forests and is supporting this project for the benefits it will bring to the local community and to downstream drinking water users. Tiger Hill contains three miles of frontage along the Northwest River, diverse wetlands, and abundant healthy forests, all of which feed into Sebago Lake, less than a mile downstream. Sebago residents can benefit from the conservation and careful stewardship of this land, which can sustain the forest-based and tourism-based economies of the region. And they will benefit from having access to cold water streams for fishing and canoeing and trails for hiking, snowmobiling and nature observation. 

“There are few natural resources more valuable than clean water,” says Melville. “Being able to connect OSI’s longtime support for community forests with this new Sebago Lake initiative creates a synergy that will produce lasting results here in Sebago and for the people of Portland.”  

OSI’s Community Forest Grant program is made possible through lead support from the Thomas W. Haas Fund and the Tarleton Fund at the New Hampshire Charitable Fund, Jane’s Trust, the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, and several generous anonymous donors.


 

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