What is a Watershed?
In its simplest terms, a watershed is defined as the land over which water flows across on its way to a stream, river or lake. Along with the flow of water across the surface of the ground, the earth beneath the surface can hold large quantities of water. This subsurface source of water is called an aquifer. They function together in supplying all of us with the water we need for our daily lives.
The Branch Brook Watershed
The Branch Brook watershed has been a consistent, reliable source of clean drinking water for the Kennebunk Kennebunkport and Wells Water District for over a hundred years. Branch Brook originates near the Sanford Airport, then flows 10 miles (forming the town line between Kennebunk and Wells) before it combines with the Merriland River and outlets to the sea. The watershed has a relatively small area, comprising 12½ square miles, or about 8,000 acres of land.
Because of its geology, the Branch Brook watershed is quite unique in comparison to other watersheds in this part of the world. The aquifer is made up of predominately sand and gravel deposited from the movement and melting of glaciers over 10,000 years ago.
This subsurface area of sand and gravel has the capacity of storing great quantities of water. As a result, Branch Brook has the unique capability of receiving a majority of its flow from the groundwater aquifer rather than surface runoff from rain or melting snow.
Threats to Our Watershed Environment
Because of the nature of the soils forming the Branch Brook watershed, it is very sensitive to damaging land-use activity. Careless use of pesticides, herbicides or petroleum products can readily migrate down into the subsurface aquifer where it can move quickly and be nearly impossible to isolate. Also, poorly designed or malfunctioning septic systems can introduce viral contaminants into the groundwater. For these reasons and more, the Water District has always been involved in different ways to help protect this valuable resource.
Active Efforts in Watershed Protection:
- The Water District was one of the first utilities in the State to develop a computer model of its watershed, allowing for the development of watershed protection recommendations that are based on scientific study. These recommendations are an integral part of watershed protection zones adopted by the Towns of Kennebunk, Wells and Sanford.
- The Water District is very involved in purchasing land within the watershed. Currently, the District owns 2000 acres of watershed land. This land, along with land purchased by The Nature Conservancy and the State of Maine (through the Land For Maine's Future Program), brings the land permanently protected to about 2,600 acres, or approximately 30% of the total watershed area.
- Water District personnel routinely test the water quality of Branch Brook at various locations throughout the year, as well as inspect the watershed by foot and by air.
- The District also works with landowners and developers in whatever way it can, to help integrate existing and proposed land-use activity so that the interests of both the landowner and the District are protected.
All this work, however, is only part of an effective watershed protection program. The support and cooperation of the general public is equally important.
We must strive to maintain our continued commitment to provide…
- A stable, consistent and safe source of public drinking water.
- A diverse and protected environment for wildlife.
- An area of natural beauty to be enjoyed by everyone.