The clear, deep water of Sebago Lake is one of Maine’s most important natural assets. Sebago Lake doubles as a recreational destination and a vital water supply. It lies less than 20 miles from Portland and provides drinking water to approximately 15 percent of the state’s population. Thanks to forests upstream that naturally clean the water, the lake is so pure that it does not require the expensive, chemical-laden filtration that most surface water sources do.
But as development encroaches upon Sebago Lake, only 10 percent of the watershed is conserved. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service ranks the Sebago as one of the most at-risk, forested watersheds in the nation because it is an unprotected water supply for such a large population.
“The unspoiled forests that cover the watershed of Sebago Lake are the priceless natural filter for much of the drinking water consumed in Maine,” says Paul Hunt, environmental manager of the Portland Water District. “Helping landowners conserve the forested land they’ve owned for generations will help keep Maine looking like Maine and ensure the water supply will continue to be one of the most pristine in the country.”
Today the Open Space Institute, the Water District, and other partners are working against time to save Sebago Lake’s forests – and to protect drinking water for roughly 200,000 people.
Since 2013 OSI has been involved in helping Sebago communities protect the region’s forests and waters, providing funding from the Resilient Landscapes Initiative and the Community Forest Fund. One of three community forests that OSI has supported in the Sebago watershed is the 365-acre Raymond Community Forest. This property was conserved after OSI provided a grant to the Loon Echo Land Trust, which helped the Town of Raymond safeguard clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, and breathtaking views.
The Crooked River feeds Sebago Lake from the north and is the major surface water source for the lake, and one of the region’s most pristine rivers. To date, OSI has helped its partners protect more than 800 acres of forestland and nearly four miles of shoreline around Sebago Lake.
“This land was critical for protecting pristine streams in the Sebago watershed, and we could not have completed this project without OSI,” says Thom Perkins, executive director of Loon Echo Land Trust. Building on its conservation success in Maine, today OSI is connecting its local experience with expertise garnered in the Delaware River Watershed. Along the Delaware River OSI is magnifying watershed protection by coordinating local land organizations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to achieve the greatest conservation impact.
Leading OSI’s Sebago effort is Jennifer Melville, OSI’s Maine-based vice president for conservation grants. In 2017, she joined forces with the Portland Water District and other nonprofit partners to launch Sebago Clean Waters, a collaboration dedicated to conserving the Sebago’s abundant forests for the benefit of downstream water users as well as upstream communities. Sebago Clean Waters uses best-available watershed science to identify key parcels and then reach out to landowners to increase the scale and pace of protection. The partners are also working with downstream water users to attract new funding to conserve the Sebago watershed.
“OSI is applying the insights from mobilizing local partners in the Delaware River to help the Sebago initiative,” says Melville. “Thanks to our Sebago Clean Waters partners, we are gaining critical momentum toward safeguarding the watershed’s invaluable resources.”