Final Report: Sustainable Lake Management in Maine’s Changing Landscape

EPA Grant Number: R833344
Title: Sustainable Lake Management in Maine’s Changing Landscape
Investigators: Bell, Kathleen P. , Leahy, Jessica , Wilson, Jeremy
Institution: University of Maine
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: May 1, 2007 through January 30, 2010 (Extended to December 30, 2011)
Project Amount: $299,249
RFA: Collaborative Science And Technology Network For Sustainability (2006) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Sustainability


Lake management research has traditionally focused on the biophysical dynamics of lakes and the negative impacts of human activities on lake ecosystems and has employed a reactive perspective, responding to major management problems after, rather than before, they emerge. Relatively new lines of research point to enormous benefits from integrating human and natural systems research and working with stakeholders to develop decision‐support tools to support pro‐active lake management opportunities. With these suggestions in mind, we designed our CNS project as an integrative, interdisciplinary research project to support sustainable lake management.

Recognizing the extent of challenges related to uncertainties about human‐driven land use and land management dynamics, we opted to focus on residential development and residential household behavior and explore the linkages between residential land use and management and lake health and management outcomes. Using Maine as our study area, our four research objectives were to: (1) create baseline spatial databases of residential development and lake characteristics; (2) develop a spatial economic model of residential development to determine the role of various factors in influencing the spatial distribution of residential development; (3) develop a spatial risk assessment tool to examine the vulnerability of specific lake characteristics to new residential development; and (4) create a practical planning tool using modeling‐based alternative futures scenarios to support lake management, land‐use planning, and economic development decisions.
Adopting a sustainability science research approach that stressed stakeholder involvement and co‐production of knowledge between researchers and scientists, we sought and responded to feedback from stakeholders about these objectives and the relevance and utility of different types of research and decision‐support tools to sustainable lake management. Our science-based research program was designed to fill information gaps and management needs so that scientific knowledge could be more effectively linked with management, institutional, and household actions to achieve lake and community goals. In the course of the research project, our team learned extensively about on‐the‐ground stakeholder needs. A common research interest shared by many lake stakeholders involved greater knowledge of household behavior. Consistent with our sustainability science research approach, we adapted some research plans to better serve these stakeholders. A major contribution of this research program is the improved understanding of human behavior and human‐driven aspects of land use dynamics near and surrounding Maine lakes.


Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

We successfully created spatial databases of residential development and lake characteristics and used social science theory to analyze human behavior related to the interactions between residential development and lake characteristics. Our initial state‐scale and community‐based work of recent residential development trends revealed interesting patterns of residential development within the state of Maine. Our state‐scale research confirmed the presence of distinct markets for year‐round and seasonal residential properties and exposed different patterns of land conversion from undeveloped to residential use in the southern/coastal and northern/inland regions of Maine. Access to lakes was generally positively correlated with conversion pressure. Statistical analysis of the relationship between land cover (drainage area) and lake water quality trends revealed no consistent or systematic patterns. Spatial statistical analysis and time‐trend analysis of water clarity revealed some global patterns but few local trends in correlation. While our work pointed to interesting relationships, it also revealed notable data gaps that constrain both research and state and municipal management activities. Our community‐scale research of residential development revealed interesting relationships between land use and zoning policies and the spatial distribution of residential development within the city of Ellsworth, Maine. Simulations based on an empirical analysis of recent land conversion activity revealed that land use policies can and do shift the spatial distribution of development and that targeted changes in policies to protect lake and other water resources can result in shifts of development to other regions. Moreover, this research helped advance a GIS tool to help planners in communities better anticipate the impacts of policy changes on stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution.

In response to stakeholder feedback, we researched lake association and lakefront household behavior. We used regression analysis to explain the presence/absence of lake associations on Maine lakes and to evaluate the success of these associations at achieving different lake management goals. Our results suggest lake association presence is positively correlated with the net benefits of association formation. Moreover, lake associations appear to complement formal management activities and are perceived to be more successful at managing water quality and invasive plant types of activities relative to issues such as erosion, development, and road management. We found strong correlations between perceived lake
association success and perceived attention given to a management issue. Our research of lake
associations suggests there is great potential for these informal groups to complement more formal lake management activities. Analysis of household best management practice adoption also revealed interesting patterns in human behavior. We found the highest rates of adoption involved lower cost and lower effort best management practices. In addition, while we found that time and monetary costs influenced adoption decisions, we also detected influences of factors such as awareness and social norms. We compared vegetative buffer and private waste management system adoption to see if household decision‐making varied across activity. Our results revealed slightly different patterns in adoption behavior, with social norm influences having a larger impact on vegetative buffer adoption than private waste management systems. This finding is consistent with other economics and psychology research that suggests that education and stewardship programs should consider the visibility of the desired behavior when designing materials and programs to encourage that behavior.
We completed a regression analysis of lake vulnerability to milfoil invasion and used this analysis to assess an expert‐based decision‐support tool used in the past by state regulators. Our results offer empirical support for the expert‐based model and point to areas for future improvements. These findings emphasize the role of human and biophysical factors in spreading such invasions. We have shared the findings of our analysis with key state agency staff responsible for management of these invasions.
We successfully developed several tools to help non‐government organizations, communities, and state agencies address lake management issues. Throughout our project, we interacted with relevant stakeholders and partners about the development of useful planning and management decision‐support tools. We held meetings with key lake stakeholders, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Congress of Lake Associations, and Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program to acquire feedback on project results and identify opportunities for communicating and sharing these results effectively. In coordination with the city of Ellsworth, Maine, we conducted a study to assess residential development and water resource interactions. We have shared data and research materials with this community and have presented the findings of this collaborativework to other groups that work with communities on lake management issues. We have shared our research of lake associations with the Maine Congress of Lake Associations to help them better understand patterns in association formation and management success and to think about ways to improve networking across associations or identify gaps within Maine where management may be improved by an association formation. In addition, we shared our research of household behavior with several state programs focused on education of and outreach to households. Lastly, we have shared our research experiences with other lake-focused research groups from throughout the world at a recent international lake management conference and emphasized the potential contributions of social science to lake management efforts.


This project ultimately demonstrated the significance of understanding human behavior to achieving sustainable lake management goals. How households, lake associations, land‐use planners, and resource managers make decisions is relevant to the future health of lake ecosystems and human communities. We responded to stakeholder requests for more information about changing landscapes, attitudes, and perceptions of landscape and lake change, and household decision making. We assessed the network of lake associations in Maine to evaluate the contributions of these novel resource‐based institutions and collaborated with citizen‐science lake monitoring organizations to assess the monitoring abilities of these volunteers. In summary, our work provides a real‐world test of sustainability science research approaches that stress researcher‐stakeholder collaborations and problem-focused research. Ultimately, our project's greatest contributions involved social science research that helped managers, associations, and government officials better understand the attitudes and behavior of residents and property owners. Improved understanding of these human processes is essential to collaborative, sustainable lake management.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 44 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Monitoring, green design, sustainable water use, environmental sustainability, ecological design, community based, alternative infrastructure design, energy efficiency, sustainable urban environment, environmental education

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2007 Progress Report
  • 2008 Progress Report
  • 2009 Progress Report
  • 2010 Progress Report