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Monitoring Platform Protects Penobscot Indian Nation, Culture

Parameters: In Vivo Chlorophyll, Phycocyanin, CDOM, Turbidity

A water quality monitoring platform in the Penobscot River is helping the Penobscot Indian Nation protect and restore the heart of their culture.

The platform floats in Dolby Pond, an impoundment on the Penobscot River and one of the more than 110 sites on rivers, streams and lakes that the Penobscot Nation’s Water Resources Program has been monitoring since the early ‘90s.

In the past 15 years, blooms in the main stem of the Penobscot River have become more severe and the phytoplankton community has shifted from a green algal dominant system to a system primarily dominated by cyanobacteria. The platform project began after a particularly bad cyanobacteria bloom in 2007 led the state of Maine to impose a fine on an upstream paper mill for excessive phosphorous discharges.

The Water Resources Program decided it was up to them to better understand the daily conditions in the Dolby Pond impoundment. Money made available as a result of the 2007 violation along with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has funded the purchase of an array of monitoring instruments that continuously measure parameters like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll concentrations. "This will help further our work to protect and provide a place where we can utilize the river the way our ancestors have for thousands of years," said Jan Paul, tribal member and field/lab technician with the water resource program. "As a Penobscot woman and mother, it is my duty to make sure seven generations from now have cleaner water than what my father had."

The floating platform is equipped with:

• Turner Designs’ C6 Multi-Sensor Platform configuring with Cyclops Sensors for monitoring chlorophyll, phycocyanin, colored dissolved organic matter, and turbidity

• YSI 6920 V2-2 Sonde measuring pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, and turbidity

• LI-COR LI-190 Quantum Sensor measuring photosynthetically active radiation

• Vaisala WXT520 Weather Sensor measuring air temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, liquid precipitation, wind speed, and wind direction

• NexSens SDL500C Cellular Data Logger collecting data from sensors and transmitting to the web via wireless telemetry

"The CDOM sensor is particularly important for helping us understand how the highly colored waters of Dolby Pond affect in situ chlorophyll measurements," said Angie Reed, the Penobscot Indian Nation's water resources planner. The impact of the colored waters was realized when the Water Resources Program began measuring chlorophyll in situ (in the lake). "We absolutely needed a CDOM sensor to get a sense of the extent of interference with the in situ fluorometric measurement of chlorophyll," Reed said. "It interferes quite a bit, as a matter of fact." The chlorophyll and phycocyanin measurements will hopefully give an early warning if another bloom starts to form. The pond hasn't had a harmful bloom since 2007, but the pigment sensors stand ready to alert managers before dissolved oxygen levels crash. "So that will be the real test," Reed said. "But we're beyond happy that we've gotten this up and running so we can work out all the kinks before the next one happens, if the next one happens." The mill responsible for the 2007 violation has been offline for the last few years but recently changed ownership. If the mill once again starts producing pulp, it will do so under a new and relatively strict limit on its phosphorous discharge set by the state, Reed said. The state has also proposed new limits for total phosphorous and chlorophyll allowed in water-bodies across Maine. But it's not yet clear whether any of these new standards will be strong enough to prevent another bloom in Dolby Pond, and there isn’t any other work like this planned to determine whether the standards are working, Reed said. That makes the Penobscot Indian Nation's monitoring projects all the more important. "We're the only ones out there on a continual basis saying, 'What's going on in Dolby Pond?'" Reed said. Measurements from the instruments on the floating platform are logged continuously and broadcast to an easily accessible website built on the NexSens WQData platform. Reed said it makes a big difference to be able to quickly look at trends for parameters like chlorophyll or make sure equipment is functioning without retrieving, downloading and graphing data. But another important effect of having data online doesn't have anything to do with permits or parameters. Water quality monitoring can be a complex business, often cloaked in complicated jargon that the public doesn't easily grasp. But when people go online and see data coming from the platform, it's easier for them to understand the Water Resources Program's monitoring work as part of the bond between the Penobscot people and their river. "Even if they don't understand the parameters, they can see the result," Reed said. "They can say, 'Oh, that's out in our river sending data to this website. It's ours.'" The river flows through Penobscot Nation reservation lands and has historically supplied drinking water, food, medicine and transportation. ”The People of the Penobscot have always believed that this river was our lifeblood," said Butch Phillips, Tribal Elder, Penobscot Indian Nation. "In honor of our Ancestors, and for the protection of the future generations, we must continue the efforts to restore the sacredness to the river." Image credits: Angie Reed, Penobscot Indian Nation

Institution: Penobscot Indian Nation, Maine, USA

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