South Portland creek cleanup serves dual purpose

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SOUTH PORTLAND — More than 300 pounds of trash was collected along a city creek not only to clean up the waterway, but to help improve the technology used to screen trash. 

During the event Friday, May 12, garbage was bagged from the banks of urban-impaired Long Creek, near the Maine Mall.

Hydro International conducted the clean-up with help from the city, the Long Creek Watershed Management District and students from the University of Southern Maine’s Environmental Science and policy program.

Hydro International will use the data to improve and refine trash screening stormwater devices they design, which can be used to improve water quality by filtering out debris and preventing it from entering bodies of water. Studying what kind of trash gets into the water will enable the company to better design the devices. 

The study is in its second year, according to the Hydro International, a Portland water management consulting company. A year ago, the same study netted 583 pounds of trash, or 54 bags. Findings from last year’s study found the largest percentage of trash – 39 percent – was from some form of food or beverage container. 

“Non-biodegradable trash is an eyesore on land, but one way or another, much of it will end up where it will arguably do the most damage to the environment – in water,” according to the company. “Aquatic life found in the lakes, rivers and oceans where most unscreened trash will eventually find its way, is vulnerable to these floating pollutants that can deceptively look like food. Once consumed, birds, fish and other wildlife are either poisoned or unable to effectively digest the material and in most cases pass away.”

The Long Creek Watershed Management District is a quasi-municipal district that formed to implement the Long Creek Watershed Management plan. 

The district was put in place in response to Long Creek’s designation as an “urban impaired” stream by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP designates waters that don’t meet federal and state water quality tests as urban impaired. There are four other urban-impaired streams in South Portland, including Barberry Creek, Kimball Creek, Red Brook and Trout Brook. 

Peter Carney, executive director at the watershed management district, said the trash clean-up serves many purposes, including visibility to the issue as people witness the collection of refuse. The trash analysis information will be used for education and outreach compare it to what it looked like a year ago.

Fred Dillon, stormwater program coordinator with the South Portland Water Resource Protection Department, said the four municipalities that make up the Long Creek Watershed include South Portland, Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook.

While the trash was being collected along the creek, recent USM graduate Thanex Louis and current student Lisa Willey sorted and weighed it in the Maine Mall parking lot.

Jeremy Fink, principal development engineer with Hydro International, said preliminary results show once again food service packaging is the leading source of trash going into the creek.

“With the help of Lisa and Thanex from USM, we sampled around 25 percent of the collected bags and sorted the trash by category. In this sub-sample, food service packaging and plastic film were the number one and number two ranked categories,” Fink said.

The trash was taken for further analysis to Hydro International’s hydraulics laboratory on Hutchins Drive in Portland, which is one of the largest testing facilities in the country for water quality testing. Results will be available in the upcoming months. 

“Water quality is central to our mission and working alongside our community to improve it at home is a natural fit,” Fink said. “However, as part of this ongoing study, the trash in South Portland’s Long Creek is now advancing our understanding of how to improve treatment systems and will have an impact on water quality globally.” 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

Thanex Louis, left, a recent University of Southern Maine graduate, and current student Lisa Willey sort and weigh trash collected around Long Creek in South Portland May 12 in the Maine Mall parking lot.

Kevin O’Brien, a project engineer at Hydro International, collects trash to be studied May 12 around Long Creek in South Portland.