Report: Work still needed to restore Kennebec Estuary health

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BATH — A new report on the health of the Kennebec Estuary concludes that while improvement efforts have been somewhat successful, the work has failed to reverse centuries of environmental abuse.

The 100-plus page report – “The Kennebec Estuary: Restoration Challenges and Opportunities” – was written by Slade Moore, director of the Biological Conservation research and planning organization, and Jaret Reblin, a researcher at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

The Kennebec Estuary Land Trust released the report with support from the Merrymeeting Bay Trust, Biological Conservation, and Maine State Planning Office.

The report notes that there is a lack of knowledge about the estuary’s basic natural cycles, which are important in understanding its recovery potential. An estuary is a coastal water body where fresh and salt water mix.

The gaps in knowledge about the Kennebec Estuary could be filled through experimental research, expanded monitoring and the development of holistic management approaches that take into account the system’s many key elements and how they react, according to the report.

Physical restoration needs, like the elimination of barriers to fish passage, are one challenge, since that work is backed by limited funding that slows progress. About 40 percent of road crossings over Lower Kennebec streams are major barriers to aquatic organism movement and the materials they need to survive, according to the authors.

Moore said efforts to improve the estuary’s health have existed in a concerted way since about the 1960s. The report focuses on shifting ecological conditions in the estuary, which is the lower section of the Kennebec River.

The document notes that historic and ongoing land-use practices have triggered negative changes to the water quality, native plants, migratory fish, wildlife, and levels of toxic contaminants in the estuary. The report also evaluates the implications of ongoing sea level rise and climate trends.

The report can be obtained online at kennebecestuary.org or by calling 442-8400.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.