A couple of weeks after giving a presentation about the risk of pollutants to the Medomak River and potential closures of clam flats, the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee is urging the town to take the matter seriously.
According to shellfish committee Co-chair Glen Melvin, the area of the Medomak River known as Tom’s Shore was recently closed to digging, an area of the flats by the town landing has been closed due to pollution, and an area referred to as the West Side is one bad test away from closing.
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources spokesman Jeff Nichols, for purposes of shellfish harvesting, the Medomak River is classified as a conditional river, meaning if an inch of rain falls in a 24-hour period, the majority of the Medomak is closed to clamdiggers for nine days.
Nichols said this closure period is to allow for the natural flushing of fecal pollution from the overlying waters of the clam flats and to allow for the natural purging of bacteria from shellfish in the area.
Phil Garwood, of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said every shellfish-harvesting area along the Maine coast is monitored by DMR.
DMR takes samples at water-monitoring stations to determine water quality and bacterial content. “They use as many stations as they think are necessary to show the shellfish is safe to eat,” he said.
Garwood said shellfish areas can have one of four statuses: complete open, conditional open, restricted conditional, and prohibited.
The majority of the clam flats of the Medomak River in close proximity to Waldoboro are conditional open, with a small portion near the town landing deemed prohibited, while the area east of Tom’s Shore is completely open to shellfish harvesting.
Garwood said the water quality in the Medomak River has been a focus of state and local officials for years.
“We have put a lot of effort into the Medomak River over the past 15 years,” Garwood said.
He said in 2012 efforts by the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee led to the creation of a multi-agency task force to monitor the river.
He said the ultimate goal of the project was to isolate and better understand the pollution sources contributing to the impaired water quality within the upper Medomak River.
The collaborative effort included officials from DEP; DMR; the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry; the Waldoboro town office; the Waldoboro Shellfish Committee; the Medomak Valley Land Trust; and the Waldoboro Utility District.
Garwood said the effort expanded the annual sampling program and set up volunteer groups to sample the village area of town in addition to spots by Medomak Pond.
In June 2014, dogs trained to pinpoint pollutants were brought in.
Garwood said the results of the search were not consistent with projections. The source of contamination was human waste, leading to more intensive studies.
“Bacteria levels jump very high after rainfall, then drop down the next day,” Garwood said.
Garwood said the search shifted to tributaries and watersheds of the river, and though the exact source of contamination is still unclear, progress has been made.
“We are trying to identify what the cause is for the rainfall closures. We have been able to exclude some places and clean up some problems, but we haven’t been able to identify what the specific cause is,” Garwood said.
He said more tests are planned for this year and the next.
One of the potential sources of fecal coliform bacteria is dog waste, a culprit brought up several times by Melvin, the shellfish committee co-chair, during presentations to the board of selectmen in recent weeks.
Melvin has pointed out two particular areas of concern close to the river, including the town landing and an area near Hannaford Supermarket.
The co-chair is adamant that the town needs to find a different spot for people to walk their dogs.
“It’s a slap in the face to the effort made by the state for our river,” Melvin said.
Melvin said current signage directing people to remove dog waste does not work and the situation is too critical to put off.
He believes closing the 2 acres at the town landing and the area next to Hannaford to animals would be a more effective course of action than adding more signage.
“We don’t have time. We’re one bad test away from losing the West Side,” Melvin said. The West Side flats are between the town landing to the north and Tom’s Shore to the south.
Melvin said conditional closures have cost clamdiggers a substantial amount of time and money in recent years.
“In the past we’ve lost half a year of digging to closures,” Melvin said.
He said combined with the current closure of Tom’s Shore, a future closure of the West Side would close down almost a mile of clam flats.
Melvin also expressed frustration about other potential sources of contamination, including contaminants in plowed snow.
“It’s not a dump. Let’s get that stuff out of (the Medomak),” Melvin said.
Melvin said the river is the biggest employer in Waldoboro and deserves the respect of the town and its residents.
“The river employs 150 to 175 (people) and $2 million was taken out of the Medomak last year,” Melvin said.
Selectman Jann Minzy said the board is working to ensure the viability of the flats by looking at potential ordinance changes for this year’s warrant, in addition to pursuing strategies to create an immediate impact on the issue of dog waste by the town landing.
“We are working to figure out what the problem is and what is possible to do about it,” Minzy said.
Minzy said the Waldoboro Police Department will step up patrols in the area. The town’s animal control officer and public works director have also been informed about individuals not cleaning up after their animals at the town landing.
Currently, the town’s dog ordinance mandates a $200 fine for those who do not clean up after their pets.
Minzy said changes could be made to the town’s dog and land use ordinances, but those will take time.
“In order to make changes to ordinances, language needs to be developed, it needs to be placed on the warrant, and the public needs to vote,” Minzy said.
The selectman said there has been a lot of interest generated by the issue.
“We are hoping we can get this resolved as quickly as possible,” Minzy said.
Though dog waste is not the only source of pollution that can contaminate tidal river estuaries, it poses some unique challenges to the waterway.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a single deposit of dog waste can contain 3 million fecal bacteria, along with parasites and viruses.
According to Waldoboro Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs, DEP and DMR officials will make presentations about the state of the clam flats at the board of selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, April 12.
Briggs said that after the presentations, an action item will be developed to address the issue of dog waste by the Medomak River.
Minzy said the river is critical for the entire community.
“(Pollutants are) certainly a problem. Our river is important to the town in many different ways. The river is one of the biggest things in our town and we want to preserve it and take care of it,” Minzy said.