Oct. 16—AUBURN — City councilors on Monday will finally get an official look at a much-anticipated study of Lake Auburn, which reviewed the rules governing the watershed that provides drinking water for more than 39,000 people.
The report, conducted over the past year by FB Environmental, the Horsley Witten Group, and the University of Maine, will likely be used by elected officials as guidance as the city considers updates to rules on recreation and development in the watershed.
The entire report appears on Monday's council agenda. According to a memo to the council from Eric Cousens, director of planning and permitting, the study provides "a balanced review and recommendations for the environmental, economic and equity impacts of watershed protection efforts" in the city.
"This communication delivers the final study for use by the council as it sees fit," he said. "Staff looks forward to continued discussions and implementation of elements of the study in the coming year."
The council got an initial look at the study in June, with Mayor Jason Levesque and others hailing the study as a new beginning for discussions on how to appropriately monitor the watershed, and whether additional recreation — including swimming — or development could occur without impacting water quality.
Due to historically clean water at the lake, the district has received a waiver of filtration since 1991, which allows it to treat the water with ultraviolet light and other means without having to pay to filter it. But it must continue to meet certain water quality standards to maintain the waiver.
Algae blooms caused by increasing phosphorus loads have led to questions about whether the filtration waiver is sustainable, but the report aims to add data to the debate over watershed protection efforts.
According to the executive summary of the report, the possibility of swimming in the lake looks unlikely.
"Given its high probability of causing a filtration waiver violation, a swimming area will likely not be feasible for Lake Auburn at any time unless state and federal authorities sign off," it states.
The report also used modeling to predict a range of scenarios about how phosphorus loads could change in the lake depending on development and other activity in the watershed. Some recommendations point to the upper watershed towns of Turner, Minot, Hebron and Buckfield as contributors to the increased nutrients entering the lake.
One recommendation says Auburn should "fully support collaborative work with local governments, land trusts, private landowners, and other potential partners in the upper Lake Auburn watershed to control development and limit phosphorus loading."
A section of the study also looks at the potential economic impacts of the rules governing the lake. The summary states that "expanding development in the Lake Auburn watershed provides minimal net economic benefit across all affected stakeholders."
Through its "maximum development" models, the study estimates that additional development would lead to greater revenue from property taxes, but that "the increased costs associated with city services for each new home coupled with loss of recreation values and greater efforts to meet drinking water standards due to poor water quality offset the additional tax revenue accrued."
After a draft of the study was presented to the council in June, the document was "refined based on feedback from the meeting," the memo states.
The council agenda, and the report, can be found on the city website at https://tinyurl.com/47k96m5y.