Sebago Lake at Twilight
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Sebago Clean Waters Receives Boost to Protect Forests and Water in Maine

Photo Credit: John McLaughlin

PORTLAND, ME (May 11, 2018)—Sebago Clean Waters partners, including the Open Space Institute (OSI), have received a $350,000 grant from the Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program.  Sebago Clean Waters is an organization founded to conserve land that feeds and filters Maine’s largest drinking water supply, provides recreational opportunities, supports local economies, and conserves fish and wildlife habitat and working lands. 

Sebago Lake provides drinking water to more than 200,000 users in the Greater Portland area and the abundant forests, cold-water lakes, and streams in the 282,000-acre Sebago Lake watershed provide myriad benefits to Maine residents and visitors, alike. The watershed’s intact forests filter water to produce clean drinking water, support local wood products businesses, and offer wide-ranging recreational opportunities like swimming, hiking, and fishing.

Much of the forest is privately owned and experiencing creeping development pressure. With only 10 percent of the land permanently protected, the U.S. Forest Service identified the Sebago watershed as the most vulnerable watershed in the northeast for drinking water.

“Clean water for drinking and recreation is our most important natural resource. The work OSI is doing as part of Sebago Clean Waters will help permanently protect this watershed, which provides drinking water for 15 percent of the population of Maine,” said Jennifer Melville, Vice President at OSI. “Thanks to our Sebago Clean Waters partners, we are gaining critical momentum toward safeguarding nature’s benefits.” 

Currently, water quality in Sebago Lake is so high that the Portland Water District (PWD) is exempted from federal filtration requirements. Large water users in the Greater Portland area, such as breweries, hospitals, manufacturing facilities, all benefit from Sebago Lake’s clean water. The filtering action of the forest minimizes chemical use and reduces filtration costs as well as water user fees.

“Clean water flows downhill from the forested watershed to customers’ taps,” said Paul Hunt, environmental manager for the Portland Water District. “To keep that clean water flowing we need to create a water fund for money to flow back up from the tap to those critical upstream forests.” The primary goal of the Sebago Clean Waters initiative is to create a “water fund” so businesses, consumers, and other water stakeholders can help private landowners upstream conserve their forests. 

The grant funds will enable Sebago Clean Waters to hire a coordinator to engage with communities on their conservation priorities, launch a water fund to enable downstream water users to join the investment in upstream land conservation, and work with land trusts to identify landowners interested in conservation. The grant will be matched by over $1.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions from partners and will be administered by the Highstead Foundation, a regional conservation organization dedicated to conserving the forested landscape of New England.  

Partners in the Sebago Clean Waters initiative— Open Space Institute, Loon Echo Land Trust, Western Foothills Land Trust, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Portland Water District, The Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, and Highstead—have been working for two years to identify priorities and begin reaching out to communities and area businesses. 

The Healthy Watersheds Consortium Grant Program focuses on expanding the pace of proactive watershed protection in the U.S. through conservation and improving stewardship of hundreds of thousands of acres of lands that provide drinking water, flood risk reduction, and an array of economic and environmental benefits. The US Environmental Protection Agency co-funds the program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, which manages the partnership. 

Through its Resilient Landscapes Initiative and Community Forest Fund, OSI has combined its expertise in land conservation, community building, and science to help partnering organizations protect over 800 acres and four miles of stream in the Sebago watershed. Building on the experiences and knowledge OSI has garnered through the Delaware River Watershed Initiative (DRWI), OSI is coordinating and partnering with local land organizations to achieve the greatest conservation impact in the Sebago watershed. More information is available on the OSI DRWI Fund webpage.

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