OXFORD — Oxford County Soil & Water Conservation District announces the start of a two-year watershed protection project to control nonpoint source (NPS) pollution in the Hogan-Whitney Pond Watershed.

OCSWCD and its project partners were awarded a $50,100 grant from the Maine DEP, through Section 319 of the Federal Clean Water Act, to address NPS pollution issues identified in a watershed survey done in 2017. The grant, plus $34,856 in local donations of cash, labor, equipment and supplies, will be used to install “Best Management Practices (BMP)” throughout the watershed.

The goal is to prevent NPS pollution, which is primarily caused by soil erosion from stormwater runoff, from impacting the water quality of the ponds. Project work will focus on town roadsides, residential waterfront properties, private gravel roads and the Two Lakes Campground.

In the past decade, Hogan and Whitney Ponds have experienced significant soil erosion from the surrounding land — the watershed — during storm events which increase the transport of phosphorous into the ponds. Phosphorus particles often “hitchhike” on soil that erodes from the watershed. If too much phosphorus, a plant nutrient, enters a lake the result can be a large algae bloom that turns a formerly clear blue lake into a slimy, green mess. Such blooms have already occurred in China Lake near Augusta and Sabattus Pond in Lewiston.

Volunteers from the Maine Lake Stewards (formerly Maine Volunteer Lakes Monitoring Program) have tested water quality in Hogan and Whitney Ponds since the mid-1980s. Water quality of the ponds is generally good, but there is growing concern about lower water clarity as well as increased nutrients like phosphorus in the water. DEP has included both Hogan and Whitney Ponds on their NPS Priority Lake list due to their “sensitivity.”

In 2017, the Hogan-Whitney Pond Association and DEP led a watershed survey to document erosion throughout the Hogan-Whitney Pond Watershed. The survey was funded 100% by private donations. Surveyors documented 95 sites that contribute erosion to Hogan and Whitney Ponds; many were located on or near the lakeshore, but significant sites were also found higher up in the hills on streams that feed the pond.

The Hogan-Whitney Pond Watershed Protection Project, Phase I allows OCSWCD to use federal grant dollars to assist in covering the cost of fixing large erosion problems with project partners. It aims to reduce the amount of erosion that enters Hogan and Whitney Ponds by 75 tons/year, which is a large portion of the erosion documented in the 2017 watershed survey.

In addition, through this grant, OCSWCD is offering free technical assistance to landowners who request assistance dealing with erosion problems, for example a problematic driveway or water access that is eroding. A technical expert, at no cost to the landowner, will visit them on their property to make recommendations.

Matching grant awards of up to $350 are available to landowners to help them pay for implementing erosion control measures such as planting vegetation along shorelines or installing runoff diverters on driveways. Free technical assistance and the $350 matching grants are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Interested landowners who live in the Hogan-Whitney Pond Watershed are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible by contacting the Oxford County SWCD: 207-744-3111. All work conducted under the Hogan-Whitney Pond Watershed Protection Project, Phase I is voluntary. No enforcement is involved.

Partnering with OCSWCD to implement the Hogan/Whitney Pond Watershed Protection Project, Phase I are the Hogan/Whitney Pond Association, Town of Oxford, Androscoggin River Watershed Council, Two Lakes Campground and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. These partners will work together as a steering committee to implement and oversee the project, as well as provide outreach to help get the word out about ways the community can get involved.

While this project addresses all the highest priority erosion sites from the 2017 watershed survey, it is anticipated a second phase may be needed to tackle the remaining medium priority sites as well as new ones that may arise. Funding for this project, in part, was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. The funding is administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in partnership with EPA.