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Land use and socioeconomic influences on a vulnerable freshwater resource in northern New England, United States

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Land use and cover conversions as well as climatic factors drive current and future threats to freshwater systems. Research from the United States and across the globe has focused on already threatened and degraded freshwater systems, whose recovery requires significant investments. Attention must also be directed to monitoring freshwater systems that may appear robust, yet are likely to face enhanced vulnerabilities in the future due to climate and land use and cover changes. Such proactive monitoring can help identify problems early and provide potential solutions. In this study, we consider the case of Sebago Lake and its watershed in southern Maine; a region that has experienced significant population growth and development activity. Land use, socioeconomic change and water quality trends are monitored over a 20-year period using Landsat imagery, census, water quality and precipitation data. Our results indicate that Developed Land within the watershed has increased from 5.4 % of the total land area in 1987 to 8.9 % in 2009 with associated increases in population and housing activity. Sebago Lake’s water quality indicators from 1990 to 2010 show a directional trend concomitant with this change. The increase in Developed Land is likely to place additional pressures on water quality in the future. The analysis also indicates that precipitation trends play an important role in water quality variability for Sebago Lake. Predicted changes to climatic factors including enhanced spring time precipitation or earlier ice-out conditions combined with further land use change may play an influential role in determining water quality. The analysis highlights emerging areas of concern and reiterates the essential role of proactively monitoring vulnerable systems to help mitigate future threats.

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The authors wish to thank the Portland Water District for providing the water quality data. This research was funded by a National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

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Correspondence to Firooza Pavri.

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Pavri, F., Springsteen, A., Dailey, A. et al. Land use and socioeconomic influences on a vulnerable freshwater resource in northern New England, United States. Environ Dev Sustain 15, 625–643 (2013).

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