BUCKFIELD — As a child, lake scientist Scott Williams loved being on or in or near the water at his grandparents’ camp in Oxford County.

“I found the whole experience fascinating,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I noticed all that was going on around me, fish and other critters, how the appearance of the water would change depending on the weather. I had a lot of questions.”

His curiosity led him to a career in limnology — the study of inland aquatic ecosystems.

Williams, 73, retired recently from his position as executive director of Lake Stewards of Maine, a nonprofit that has trained some 5,000 volunteers to monitor lakes and ponds over the past 26 years.

But he is not fully retired. He will continue part time as senior program adviser and staff limnologist for the group, formerly the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program under the Lakes Division of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Scott Williams is the recently retired executive director of Lake Stewards of Maine. He is shown Sunday at Lake Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The program transitioned to a nonprofit in 1996, when the Legislature cut funding. Williams was asked to head Lake Stewards as its first executive director.

The mission of Lake Stewards is to protect Maine lakes and to promote lake stewardship through widespread citizen participation.

Members, usually Williams, train, certify and provide technical support to volunteers who monitor water quality, assess watershed health and function, and screen lakes for invasive aquatic plants and animals, according to its website — www.lakestewardsofmaine.org.

It was the first citizen lake program in the country and one of the largest, Williams said, “partly because there are so many lakes here.”

Nearly 3,000 in the public domain.

“There would never be enough professionals to oversee, track and monitor the health of those lakes,” he said, “so it was important to engage the public in the process.”

Initially, the focus was on water quality, but now volunteers are asked to screen for aquatic invaders such as milfoil, a nonnative plant that can take over bodies of water by outcompeting native plants for space and sunlight.

“We’ve trained thousands of individuals to identify aquatic invaders,” Williams said. “The critical first step is finding it and then you can figure out what to do.”

The third arm of Lake Stewards is watershed assessments, he said.

“Lakes are what they are due in large part to watersheds — the area that surrounds a lake and drains into a body of water,” he said.

Natural soils, vegetation and topography have a strong impact on individual lakes, “which I think of as living organisms that are very complex,” Williams said. “What happens in a watershed can have an effect on the health of lakes. We identify things that could have a negative effect.”

Volunteers are monitoring 450 to 500 lakes, Williams said.

“That’s a lot, but we still have a lot to go,” he said. “Some are remote, so it’s not easy to find volunteers.”

And there is the worsening issue of climate change.

Historically, Maine lakes were covered with ice more than half of the year, so the water saw little sunlight and was very cold, Williams said.

“That slows down the biological processes and contributes to (good) water quality,” he said.

But the period of ice cover is getting shorter.

“That’s going to have a profound effect on lakes, and not in a good way,” he said.

Although Williams leaves big shoes to fill at Lake Stewards, his successor has experience in climate change science and diplomacy and lake monitoring.

Adam Zemans headed an environmental health agency in Bolivia for about 20 years, according to information from Lake Stewards of Maine.

Williams said of Zemans, “His credentials are impeccable, and his work ethic is impressive.”

Williams said also his life has been enriched “through the wonderful relationships that I’ve formed with hundreds of remarkable volunteer lake stewards, supportive members of the LSM board of directors, our hardworking staff, respected and distinguished colleagues, program funders, and more, many of whom have been, and are still, like family to me.”

One of those colleagues is Bill Monagle, executive director of the Cobbossee Watershed District and vice president of Lake Stewards of Maine. He has known Williams for 30 years and has been on the Lake Steward of Maine board for 20 years.

“I’ve always been really impressed by Scott’s dedication and passion for the job,” Monagle said, adding that the growth of the once-Spartan program over the past 20 years “has really been something to see.”

Williams has great technical knowledge and understanding of lake quality, Monagle said.

“I’ve been impressed by his ability to convey technical concepts (and) lake-related science in a very understandable and meaningful way to lay people,” Monagle said. “He’s done an amazing job.”

But Williams said he is not done.

“We have some of the cleanest and clearest lakes in the nation,” he said. “That’s a lot to protect. I want to continue to have that quality for the future.”


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