Grant for Cape Elizabeth farm aims to improve Trout Brook water quality
CAPE ELIZABETH — A Spurwink Road farm's new waste management shed is playing a part in the effort to reduce pollutant runoff in the Trout Brook watershed.
Down Home Farm received a $68,000 grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service to build a covered storage facility that manages manure from livestock and prevents nutrients from running into the brook.
The shed contributes to the storm-water management plan managed by South Portland and Cape Elizabeth to improve the brook's status. The brook has been deemed impaired by the Department of Environmental Protection because it doesn't meet state water-quality standards.
Farm owner Nick Tammaro, who was an active member of the Trout Brook Steering Committee that help develop the management plan, said when the committee first approached him, he went on the defensive.
"At first, some people thought all the runoff (into Trout Brook) was probably coming from the farm," he said, adding that the farm's contribution to the brook impairment was likely smaller than people perceived. "So we put on our boxing gloves and were ready to go to war. But, once they realized we were willing to work with them, things calmed down."
The farm, which raises chickens, pigs, goats and a herd of 10 beef cows, is operated on land owned by the Maxwell family, and is the larger of two small meat-producing farms in Cape Elizabeth.
The shed, a water-tight building, sits on top of a concrete pad covered in dirt and surrounded by concrete walls. It serves as a feeding area for the cows and contains 90 percent of their manure and urine, which is eventually used as fertilizer.
Tammaro said although he didn't believe the farm was a major contributor to the impairment of the watershed, he supports the effort and said the building has been helpful.
"When they came to me and said they want to improve Trout Brook, I said, 'Trout Brook? You mean that ditch that dries up in the summertime?'" he said, noting that the Maxwell family created the brook as a drainage ditch for farming in the 1960s. "But, it's actually been a benefit."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricuture runoff is the leading source of water quality impacts in waterways in the U.S., although much of that pollution is attributed to large farming operations.
Tammaro said his project, which was completed last summer, wouldn't have been possible without support from the Maxwell family, which leases the land to him free of charge, because they want the land to continue to be farmed.
Fred Dillon, South Portland's storm-water program director, said the shed has helped improve the brook.
"There's not any negative effect from the farm, especially now with the most recent thing (Tammaro) has done with the shed," he said. "The Maxwells and Nick really do their part make sure there arn't any nutrients getting into the stream."
Nutrients deplete oxygen in the water, as process known as eutrophication.
The Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District completed a management plan for the Trout Brook watershed in December. It has found that in addition to agriculture, storm water comes from impervious surfaces such as rooftops, parking lots and roads contribute to much of poor water quality.
Trout Brook is a 2.9-mile stream that runs along the northeastern South Portland and Cape Elizabeth boundary line, from Mill Creek to Eastman Road. It lies mainly in South Portland.
The goal of the management plan is for Trout Brook to meet state water-quality standards by 2023. The plan outlines strategies to meet that goal and assigns responsibilities for those strategies, Dillon said.
Dillon, along with the stormwater management team in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, recently received a $70,000 grant to continue implementation of the plan, following an earlier $35,000 grant to develop the management plan.
"We're hopeful because Trout Brook is not so impaired that it will take a lot of work to bring it up to state water-quality standards," he said, adding that other waterways in South Portland, such as Long Creek near the Maine Mall, are far more impaired.
Although a schedule for the brook's recovery is hard to pin down, Dillon said they've set an initial estimate of 10 years.
The brook's namesake trout are at diminished levels, he said, probably because many of the bugs the fish eat can't survive when the water is impaired.
Although most of the project's work takes place in South Portland, Cape Elizabeth's part of the plan includes "working with farms to install nutrient and manure management best-management practices, encouraging conservation of agricultural and undeveloped lands, enforcing shoreland zoning regulations, providing outreach and technical assistance to farms and to the Purpoodock Club golf course and participating in a Trout Brook work group that will meet at least once a year," according to a summary on the town's website.
Dillon said they'll be ramping up efforts to do more public outreach ahead of an application with the Gulf fo Maine Research Institute for a grant from the Royal Bank of Canada that will add another $20,000 to their storm-water management budget.
That money would help brook-abutting property owners install rain gardens, buffers and landscaping features to help prevent runoff.
"It's kind of a long shot," Dillon said, "but we're trying."