Real Problems, Real Solutions

Originally posted: November 11, 2011

William Supple IV '12

Research Assistant William Supple IV ’12 uses a glass-bottomed bucket to view the shallow-water substrate of Great Pond. Supple and five other students worked this summer with professors Russell Cole, Catherine Bevier, and Herbert Wilson to investigate the impacts of shoreland development on the lake’s shallow-water ecosystem.

Colby has focused its environmental resources on Maine’s Belgrade Lakes for decades. Now there’s an expanded and long-term study, and Colby’s environmental resources are more considerable than ever.

A research project funded by the National Science Foundation brings together local and state conservation organizations—and an interdisciplinary group of Colby scholars, both faculty and students. The data they provide has helped the state better direct resources at lake quality problems in Maine.

“I think their work is equal to or better than the work you’d get from a paid professional consultant,” said Roy Bouchard, head of the Maine DEP Lakes Assessment Program. “And I think it’s a real model for involvement between a college and its community.”

The result of the NSF grant has been an intensive and broad study of the past, present, and future of a watershed that comprises seven major lakes that serve as fishery, water supply, recreation center, and economic engine in central Maine. The project, recently funded for a third year, has involved more than 50 students in hands-on research encompassing chemistry, biology, environmental studies, spatial analysis, geology, economics, and science and technology

“The fundamental science is cool,” said Whitney King, Miselis Professor of Chemistry, project leader for the second year of the study. “But it’s also the collaboration we’ve established between departments.”

That collaboration has focused on the problem—the actual and potential effects of increased development on the watershed—from several different angles, from chemical changes in water quality to shoreline erosion to historical land use to biodiversity to socioeconomics.

“The economic drivers that run that watershed are quite complex,” King said.

The problem is complex, not only for the Belgrade Lakes watershed but for all Maine lakes, which are both crucial to the state and suffering the effects of development pressures.

Last June, for the second year in a row, Colby hosted of the annual meeting of the Maine Lakes Conference, cosponsored by the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement and the Maine Congress of Lake Associations. The day-long conference drew collaborators from local, county, and state organizations, and the Colby team of scientists. And, like the Belgrade study itself, the conference drew on Colby’s expertise in watershed research and civic engagement.

Said King, “This is a win-win situation.”

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