Story posted November 14, 2011
In the fall of 1971, Bowdoin’s newly established Environmental Studies Program offered its first course, The Androscoggin River: A Case History. The class provided students with the opportunity to explore the historical, ecological, economic and political dimensions of a river that had seen dramatic declines in water quality and fish species throughout the 20th century to a point it was once labeled as the fifth most polluted river in the country.
Over the past 40 years, progress has been made on many fronts as a result of the passage of the Clean Water Act. Yet what remains constant is the continued value these systems have in helping our understanding of river systems and their connections to the ecology and economy of Maine.
In 2010, Bowdoin, in collaboration with Bates College and the University of Southern Maine, was awarded a grant through Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and Maine’s NSF-EPSCoR program to study the Androscoggin and its sister river, the Kennebec. John Lichter, Phil Camill, Guillermo Herrera, Ted Ames and Eileen Johnson, along with many students as part of classes and summer research fellowships, are partnering with faculty and students at Bates College and the University of Southern Maine to study these two river systems in detail. The research focuses on the many dimensions of river restoration, in order to more fully understand the rates at which these systems have recovered, and to understand potential barriers to a more full recovery.
“Understanding the history of our system is important for understanding its potential,” says Lichter, Bowdoin’s Samuel Butcher Associate Professor in the Natural Sciences. “Not that we can return to a pristine state, but because the ecological mechanisms that produced such fantastic natural bounty in the past can be identified and steps taken to recover what is recoverable.”
What differentiates this from earlier research projects is the strong emphasis on stakeholder engagement throughout the project’s timeline.
“Understanding these systems is one part of the puzzle,” says Phil Camill, director of the Environmental Studies Program and Rusack Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Earth and Oceanographic Science. “Learning how to communicate research results in a way that can translate ‘knowledge into action’ is a second and equally important step. Involving stakeholders throughout the process is key.“
Bowdoin is hosting the symposium, “Many Rivers, One Estuary: Translating Knowledge into Action.” Developed collaboratively with a stakeholder organization, the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, and through support by Maine’s EPSCoR program, Merrymeeting Bay Trust, McKeen Center for the Common Good and Environmental Studies Program, the symposium will convene stakeholders from throughout the two watersheds as a way of sharing research results, understanding emerging issues, and continuing to seek ways to effectively move “knowledge into action.”
The Nov. 17 symposium will include panels on the role of the rivers in the local economies, connections between the river systems to coastal fisheries, the status of improving water quality and fish passage, and a discussion of next steps in terms of research questions.
“The response to the symposium has been tremendous,” says co-organizer Eileen Johnson. “I think the value of partnering with a local organization in developing the symposium has helped us to shape the content of the day and engage a wide range of stakeholders.”
Registration for the symposium is full. We will be unable to accommodate walk-ins. For more information, contact Environmental Studies Program Coordinator Rosie Armstrong.