Water and Sebago

By Alice Darlington

I didn’t think much about water as I was growing up.  True, my father used to get quite annoyed if he thought we were using too much water to boil eggs, but that was not to save water, but gas so I continued pretty much oblivious to the wonder of water because it was there. It wasn’t a problem. We had plenty. A pump house at the bottom of our hill pumped water up to the house.

How many things like that we just grow up taking for granted and don’t even wonder about?

When I went to live in Mexico, however, slowly the reality of life began to filter into my consciousness and water was no longer just there because often it wasn’t. Even when it was, it couldn’t necessarily be trusted to be clean enough to drink or to wash fruit and vegetables in. It is strange to think that Mexico was once a sparkling city built amongst canals, water everywhere, a New World Venice. Now, it is a crowded city sinking into the swampy subsoil with the weight of its buildings and population, whose dwellings crawl ever higher onto the surrounding mountains that form a cup for the metropolis. I was one of those who went to live up and out. At the start, I could see the two volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, on my morning commute to the other side of town. By the time I left, I was no longer an outpost, but surrounded by homes and businesses. That was when water started to be a problem. Each house, where I lived, had a water cistern on the roof that was filled from a large communal tank for the whole condominium complex. That big cistern began to run out of water and so did our individual ones. So, no showers. Jugs and bottles were filled with water so that we could drink, but only after boiling the water and adding disinfecting drops. Big trucks — pipas — would come to deliver water from a river outside of the city, but this was never a sure thing. Many people weren’t careful of the water even though they knew it could soon run out. They would have their cars washed in the early morning with the open hose flowing.  I’d just fill a bucket and sponge my car clean.

Then, I moved to Maine! A water paradise. Water all around the Lake Region. Where I live, delicious water from our well! No longer the need to measure out drinking water or disinfect it; no longer the need to plan for showers. I know I am truly fortunate and I continue to be very careful with water, unable to waste what is so scarce in other parts of the world.

Right from the start of living here, I was aware of competing interests with respect to the water in Sebago Lake. There were the high-water people concerned about marinas, boating, recreation and real estate values; and the low-water people interested in bigger beaches and, supposedly, winter erosion control, though from what I have observed this winter, low water also causes erosion. There is Portland Water District and its interest in potable water for greater Portland. There is S.D. Warren in control of the dam that regulates the outflow into the Presumpscot River and makes power that is an important factor in its business viability. A true conundrum that perhaps can only be dealt with by every interest giving up something and accepting compromise.

It seems to me that every side has its experts who point to studies supporting their viewpoint. I say, “A pox on all their experts.” More specifically, look at the reality of the lake and the reality of nature, ever changing, unpredictable. This year, there was very little snow pack to bring water to the lake in the spring. So far, there has been virtually no rain either. This may change, but the fact is that the lake has been unusually low since last fall and if this continues, the impact on “vacationland” will be huge.

I admit that my particular concern is for the frogs that used to bring a deafening concert every spring to my cove — no wood frogs this year, fewer peepers and American toads. Wildlife is affected by the unstable lake levels. For example, the muskrat lodge in the cove, dry and exposed all winter, probably abandoned.  In addition, this very low water level for so much of the year will almost certainly promote the spread of milfoil as the sunlight penetrates these new, shallow levels.

Again, what I hope for is a compromise that nonetheless requires a more stable lake level year round instead of the four to five-foot variations that disrupt recreation, discombobulate wildlife, destroy habitat, harm businesses and real estate values and, ultimately negatively impact the water quality of this jewel of a lake — Sebago.

Alice Darlington is a resident of South Casco.

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