South Portland urged to keep focus on urban-impaired streams

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Members of the Water Resource Protection Department and the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District on Tuesday advised the Planning Board on how to best deal with storm-water runoff in five urban-impaired streams across the city.

The federal Clean Water Act of 2003 has been the impetus for such efforts across the state and country. South Portland established its Stormwater Performance Standards in 2009. The city is poised to enter the second phase of the storm-water regulation process. 

“Polluted storm-water runoff is a real challenge in a lot of developing landscapes, like South Portland,” said Fred Dillon, storm program coordinator for the city. 

Of the approximate 12 square miles that make up South Portland, about 11 square miles are urbanized. The city’s five urban-impaired streams include Long Creek, which is the largest, Barberry Creek, Trout Brook, Kimball Brook and Red Brook. 

An urban stream can become impaired for a variety of reasons; most often in South Portland, water and conditions from each of the five streams do not meet the quality standards “because of storm-water impacts from developed land and impervious surfaces,” Dillon said.

A parking lot, building, or any structure that prevents storm water from soaking naturally into the ground is considered an impervious surface. 

Depending on the size of an impaired area, mitigating the adverse effects of polluted storm water can vary. For example, last summer, a few homeowners near Long Creek practiced yardscaping, or supplanting non-native plants with native vegetation around the creek’s banks.

While this effort may seem small, it is a necessary part of the process to rebuild the ecosystem of an impaired area, said Wendy Garland of the Department of Environmental Protection. Allowing native vegetation to thrive will facilitate the revival of an nutrient-ecosystem from the ground up, she said, beginning with bugs.

Trout Brook, where Dillon and his team requested that the city focus its attention, “has a high restoration potential,” he said.

Restoration efforts are costly, but so far the city has had little trouble in procuring adequate funds. Since 2010, through the Wetland Compensation Fund and the Department of Environmental Protection, South Portland has accrued about $270,000.

Bringing people’s attention to these issues is the first step toward change, said Kate McDonald, project scientist for the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“We need to get people to think about these streams as resources,” she said, “rather than just a place where water goes.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.