REGION — Conservation-minded groups have collaborated in the Sebago Clean Waters coalition to conserve 12,268 acres of land in Oxford County to preserve the forests as well as keep the waters clean. The conservation estate, which is privately owned property, is now permanently protected from development to preserve its ecological and water quality for the community.

The following organizations have worked together to make this possible: Mahoosuc Land Trust, Sebago Clean Waters, landowners Mary McFadden and Larry Stifler, the Conservation Fund, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Portland Water District.

“I think the biggest thing that that excites me about this historic donation is that Larry Stiffler and Mary McFadden have begun to put back together a landscape that has been quite fragmented over decades,” explains Kirk G. Siegel, executive director of Mahoosuc Land Trust. “The other super important contribution that this project makes to our state is the conservation of forest land that directly protects the drinking water for one in six Mainers, and the clear connection between conserving forestland and water quality in the Sebago Lake Watershed.”

Forests are a vital source for producing clean water. According to Paul Thomas Hunt, an environmental services manager at Portland Water District, “When it rains, the water is falling from two miles up, from a cloud, and so those drops of water are coming down fast by the time they reach the ground. On the forest canopy above you, you can hear the drops hitting it right. And what’s happening when you hear that is the energy that each of those drops contains is hitting the leaf and that noise is the sound of the energy being expelled. There’s a lot of energy is being cushioned. The floor of the forest is being cushioned by this canopy of the trees. And the reason why that’s important is when the forest is removed, then those drops hit the ground.”

Hunt continues to explain that when the raindrops hit the ground, they break up soil and that soil washes down and gets carried downstream to the nearest stream. That nearest stream goes into the nearest pond which goes to a lake which could ultimately go to Sebago Lake, and, so as Hunt explains, those forests are effectively a “big shock absorber” for the land’s watershed so the soil on Earth doesn’t end up in Sebago Lake.

The water, starting at the Crooked River — which has ponds pouring into it that begin at Greenwood — and arriving in Sebago Lake, is so clean, it doesn’t have to be filtered though it does have to still be disinfected. By conserving these forests, there has been $150 million saved on a mandated filtration system.

“The forest is our filter,” says Hunt.

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