Understanding the Damariscotta River: Volunteers monitor water quality through DRA program

Posted:  Thursday, March 6, 2014 - 12:30pm

“A free boat ride on the Damariscotta? Watching a beautiful sunset over the river? It’s a ‘no brainer.’ It’s lots of fun and helps a good cause.”  So says Bob Barkalow of his volunteer work monitoring the estuary’s quality. 

Now in its second year in its new format, the DRA’s Estuarine Monitoring Program is giving community members a chance to get out on the water and become part of a data-gathering program that in time will help to determine the health of the estuary. 

Some may wonder about the term, “estuary” when charts, maps, printed material, and just about everything else label it the “Damariscotta River.” Technically, it is an estuary, “an inlet or arm of the sea” -  the dictionary definition, although this estuary has very little freshwater input.

Whatever it is called, the Damariscotta River Estuary is a critical component of this area’s environment.  From lobstering to oyster-farming, from vacationing boaters to tourists strolling the shoreline, from a history of Native American habitat to a history of boat building, it remains an incomparable resource for the communities along its shores and in the watershed.

The DRA has been involved with a variety of water quality monitoring projects for more than two decades, much of that time under the title Tidewater Watch. DRA Education Coordinator, Sarah Gladu, initiated the newest iteration, the program to which Barkalow referred, a sort of Tidewater Watch 2.0.

Water samples are taken from seven locations beginning at the Darling Center and ending at the Damariscotta town float. In addition to a boat operator, two volunteers perform the tasks of lowering the equipment into the water, taking measurements, and noting them on a data collection form.

This year, DRA plans to qualify volunteers to operate their newly donated powerboat, the “Wendy J.” The monitoring will be done once a month, during high tide, from the first week of May through the middle of October.  The salinity, temperature, and other data will be entered into a DRA database housed at the Darling Marine Center.

Nitrate samples will be taken by the volunteers and then analyzed at the Darling Center. Plans include publishing a report on the estuary’s health at three and five-year intervals and using the data to inform local municipalities’ natural resource policy initiatives.

“We’re grateful to the Darling Marine Center for their expert partnership and continued technical consultation on this project,” notes DRA Executive Director Steven Hufnagel. “We’re also grateful to the many volunteers who have worked over decades to help DRA and the community at large better understand – and then improve - the state of the Damariscotta River Estuary.”

The DRA provides all technical training except boat captaining. The DRA does need boat captains with prior experience. A training program for volunteers interested in leaning the water monitoring protocols and volunteering throughout the monitoring season will be held on Wednesday, April 16 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Darling Marine Center.

Volunteers should expect that each monitoring session will take approximately two hours and the schedule will vary depending on tides. Volunteers interested in participating in the program are asked to register through the DRA.

Visitors are welcome at the Great Salt Bay Heritage Center in Damariscotta as well as the many other DRA properties throughout the region. For more information call 207- 563-1393, email dra@damariscottariver.org, or view their web page at www.damariscottariver.org.