A snapping turtle lies in the sun on a rock in Lake Auburn in 2019. Water officials are encouraging people to use social media network Water Reporter to post photos of wildlife, algae or other water quality issues. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo

AUBURN — The Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission is encouraging people to use a special social network that allows users to upload photos of algae or other potential water quality issues.

The app, called Water Reporter, was created to support watershed initiatives, and local advocates of Lake Auburn are hoping it can support water quality efforts to protect Lewiston-Auburn’s public water source.

According to a news release from the commission, Water Reporter allows users to upload photos and document anything from wildlife, algae blooms, trash and other pollution, to erosion and water level rise in the watershed.

“By simply taking a picture of what you notice in the watershed you can help contribute to conserving and protecting our most precious resource: water,” the release said. “Preserving the water quality of Lake Auburn is an all-in effort, and we can use all the help we can get.”

Auburn City Councilor Katie Boss shared the announcement, stating, “Protecting our drinking water is everyone’s responsibility. Thank you Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission for creating this great community resource.”

Sean Seary, education and outreach coordinator for the commission, said Wednesday that utilizing the app is a way for them to encourage community involvement while adjusting to the pandemic.

“Given the uncertainty that has been brought about by COVID-19, I thought that Water Reporter would give the communities within the Lake Auburn watershed the chance to gain some autonomy regarding scientific inquiry and grassroots research without the need to gather in large groups,” he said. “I feel that the app will allow individuals to take watershed conservation into their own hands.”

Over the last few years, officials have increased efforts to combat water quality on the lake, working to prevent algae blooms caused by warming waters and sources of algae-producing phosphorus entering the watershed.

After the commission posted the news to its Facebook page this week, a resident on Lake Auburn said they noticed an algae bloom while kayaking this week, and planned to return to take a photo.

The water district dealt with a sustained algae issue in 2018, which led to taste and odor issues for Lewiston-Auburn residents.

At the time, officials said it was caused by a specific type of algae that occurs due to hotter-than-average summers.

Last summer, the Auburn Water District and Lewiston Water Division teamed up to apply a dose of aluminum sulfate to three-quarters of the lake. According to Chris Curtis, treatment plant manager for the Auburn Water District, there are currently “very low algae numbers” compared to past years.

“We have seen improved water quality, clarity and turbidity since the (aluminum sulfate) treatment,” he said, adding that there is a difference between the presence of algae in a body of water and an algae bloom.

“Blooms involve issues in turbidity and clarity,” he said. “Clarity is very high for this time of year.”

Because of historically clean water, the Auburn Water District receives a waiver of filtration that allows it to treat the water with ultraviolet light and other means without having to pay to filter it. But, periodic issues have led to some calls for the cities to build a water treatment plant.

Water officials and the watershed protection commission have been working with Bates College to study the lake, and in particular, where algae-producing nutrients are entering the watershed.

Seary said the commission is hoping to eventually get community members involved in “not just reporting back to the commission what they see in the watershed but also doing water quality sampling at some of the lake’s upstream sources.”

Those interested can sign up for a free Water Reporter account that can be used both on a mobile phone and desktop/laptop computer. Users can search for the group Lake Auburn Watershed Protection Commission and follow the page.

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