Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Plenary: Looking Ahead in Maine Coastal Communities

Derek Sowers, Conservation Program Manager, Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership

Maine’s coastal communities want to stabilize their economies and preserve their quality of life, yet maintaining water quality in the face of population growth (a near doubling of population in some southern Maine towns) represent a barrier to achieving these goals. What will Maine’s coast look like in 50 years if the population continues to increase at this rate? How will conversion from rural land uses to suburban and urban development affect the character of the Maine coast?

In forested areas, rain and snow infiltrate soil and recharge groundwater. Converting natural landscapes to housing changes the hydrology of the watershed because pavement and other hard surfaces increase the pace and volume of runoff into streams and bays. How can communities manage this runoff, which is the cause of most water quality problems, in a better way?

Another challenge is climate change and more severe storms. The Casco Bay region is getting warmer and wetter, with more storms and more extreme heat days. Our infrastructure—road drainage, culverts, etc.--is not designed for this frequency and intensity of storms. And our working scenario of a sea-level rise needs to be adjusted to account for melting ice caps.

Beaches are a large part of York County’s economy. Yet access in Maine is limited, especially when compared to other states. Maine has 13 state park beaches and about 80 miles of publically accessible shoreline, compared to 28 in Oregon.

Consider the following guiding principles for future development:

  • Support and create “green infrastructure,” linked networks of conservation, farms, forests, etc. Beginning with Habitat in Maine is an example of this.
  • Consider “no regrets” actions, for example, upgraded stream crossings won’t fail in future storms and increase and restore fish habitat now.
  • Employ ecosystem-based management that acknowledges connectivity of systems.

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

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