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Winter Storm Forces Salt Water Over Dam Into West Harbor Pond,

Leading to Siphon Failure and Repair

A winter storm on January 13th, following on the heels of another storm only four days earlier brought severe flooding to the south-facing coastal areas of the Boothbay Region.  Just after noon on January 13th, Mike Breen went down to the West Harbor Pond causeway to observe the effects of the storm. He arrived exactly at high tide, and what he witnessed was the combined effects of a king tide and the storm surge. Together, they brought the level of the harbor up to the very edge of the pavement on the causeway. In one of his photographs, you can see that seaweed has been washed onto the roadway. The videos show an enormous river of ocean water rushing into the Pond through the box culvert. The water gauge has lost one of its fastenings.  Thanks to Mike for providing these photos and videos.

In mid-January, shortly after the destructive storm of January 13th, drivers and walkers who regularly cross the West Harbor Pond causeway noticed that something had changed. The distinctive halo in the harbor, which marks the upwelling of water discharged from the West Harbor Pond siphon* and which is visible in all but the windiest conditions, had disappeared, clear evidence that the siphon was no longer operating.

As soon as it realized that the siphon had ceased operating, the West Harbor Pond Watershed Association (WHPWA), which assumes responsibility for the siphon’s operation, set about trying to hire a diver; but, with so much damage to the coastline from the December and January storms, it was unable to do so.  So on April 22, at the WHPWA’s request, Nick DeGemmis, the Boothbay Harbor Sewer District’s new superintendent, and David Pratt, BHSD’s foreman, brought the district’s new, high-pressure water jetter to the dam to try to blow out the siphon, whose outfall, the WHPWA speculated, had been buried in silt by one of the winter’s storms.

The jetter holds 750 gallons of water, and for two hours Nick and David pumped two full loads of water (1,500 gals) into the siphon at pressures from 150 to 400 PSI.  They tried various combinations, pumping water into the harbor-side and then into the pond-side pipe, but without success. The characteristic halo failed to appear in the harbor showing water upwelling from the outfall.

But they put the WHPWA in contact with Tim Pinkham, a local diver. On April 28th, Tim swam the length of both the harbor-side and the pond-side pipes of the West Harbor Pond siphon. He found no damage to the siphon. Nor did he find that the outfall in the harbor had been buried. Instead, he discovered that the siphon’s intake in the Pond was blocked, something that had never before occurred. With some effort, he was able to remove the obstruction. With the blockage removed, the siphon immediately reestablished itself and by April 29th the halo was again clearly visible.  (Tim also replaced the orange buoy marking the siphon’s outfall that had become detached in a storm a couple of years ago.)


Note: With the siphon restored to operation, there will be no “rotten eggs” odor of hydrogen sulfide, as there was when the siphon began operating in 2019. The vegetative decay at the bottom of the Pond takes years to produce a perceptible odor when the siphon resumes operation after a period of inactivity.

* Some History: The West Harbor Pond siphon was installed in 2019 to replace the original siphon installed in 1880 when Campbell Cove was dammed to create a pond for harvesting natural ice. Until it failed in 2008, the 1880 siphon operated continuously, fulfilling its original purpose of evacuating saltwater from the Pond, a task carried on by the 2019 siphon. The dramatic improvement in the Pond’s water quality brought about by the 2019 siphon is described in the 2021 article to the Register found at this link: Siphon improves West Harbor Pond’s water quality

Saltwater enters West Harbor Pond through the box culvert at the west end of the causeway during king tides and storm surges. For example, during the storm and astronomical high tide of January 13th, the water in the harbor came within inches of the top of the West Harbor Pond causeway, and a veritable river of saltwater poured through the box culvert and into the Pond. The multiple king tides that occurred from December through April only added to the quantity of saltwater dumped into the Pond.


When saltwater, which is heavier than freshwater, enters West Harbor Pond, it sinks immediately to bottom, where it is removed by the 2019 siphon. But when, in mid-January, the siphon stopped operating, saltwater accumulated in the Pond in unprecedented quantities. When the West Harbor Pond Watershed Association (WHPWA) conducted its first monthly water testing of the year on April 14th, it found the saltwater-freshwater interface at a depth of only three meters. The Pond’s water, which, at the 2-meter level, was 101.3% oxygen-saturated (yes, for complicated technical reasons, oxygen saturation can slightly exceed 100%) was only 4.9% oxygen-saturated at the 3-meter depth. By way of comparison, a year earlier, in April of 2023, the saltwater-freshwater interface occurred between six and seven meters, 13 feet lower than this year in a pond whose mean depth is only 15 feet.

The West Harbor Pond causeway at the height of the January 13th storm surge(photograph courtesy of Mike Breen, WHPWA)

Harbor water flooding into West Harbor Pond through the box culvert in the Hwy 27 causeway on January 13th(photograph courtesy of Mike Breen, WHPWA)

Nick DeGemmis (l.) and David Pratt (r.), Boothbay Harbor Sewer District, operating water jetter (photograph courtesy of Merritt R. Blakeslee)

Tim Pinkham preparing his diving gear(photograph courtesy of Merritt R. Blakeslee)

Tim Pinkham
(photograph courtesy of Merritt R. Blakeslee)


The distinctive halo showing that the West Harbor Pond siphon is again operating(photograph courtesy of Merritt R. Blakeslee)

Statement on the Pond Grass in West Harbor Pond (July 21, 2023, edited August 20, 2023)

Many of you have noted with concern the abundant pond grass at the north end of the Pond and in patches elsewhere.  We have contacted scientists at Bigelow who visited the Pond and indicated that although there is an excess of aquatic vegetation at the north end, this growth is actually helping to maintain a healthy balance in the Pond.  They also indicated that it would be
ill-advised to remove the aquatic vegetation at this point because that could compromise the health of the lake.  Native aquatic vegetation is essential for the health of the Pond.  The pond grass is serving as a filter for excess nutrients entering the Pond in this unusually rainy summer, thus preventing more harmful species from taking over. It is also is providing shelter, food, and
nurseries for fish and other beneficial species.  

Although the pond grass may be unattractive and may interfere with some recreational activities in some parts of the Pond, that does not mean that it is bad for the environment. In fact, in this case it appears to be preventing harm by taking up nutrients that otherwise could promote the growth of more harmful vegetation, including algae, particularly cyanobacteria which is
blooming in other lakes in the area, including Damariscotta Lake.

While this year’s growth of pond grass is unusual, this is not the first time that it has occurred. There may come a point when the pond grass grows to an unhealthy level, but we are nowhere near that in the Pond. It is patchy and generally limited to the shallow north end of the pond that receives the nutrient load from Campbell Creek and Knickerbocker Lake.

If the pond grass dies off suddenly and prematurely (that is, before fall), it may
 deoxygenate those parts of the pond where it decays.  Signs to watch for are dead fish with swollen gills and scum forming on the surface of the pond.  If the grass dies off in the fall, normal fall turnover will reoxygenate the water. 

On August 20, 2023, the Pond Association took oxygen readings at two locations at the northernmost end of the pond and a third reading at the north end of Heron Cove.  There was no sign that the dramatic disappearance of the pond grass in these three locations had resulted in deoxygenation of the affected areas.  To the contrary, the oxygen saturation on the bottom of the Pond (about 3 meters/10 feet) was 82%, 79%, and 100.1% respectively at the three sampling locations.

Thanks to all of you who have inquired. We hope this satisfies your concerns and that you will be guided by the advice above. 
Please contact WHPWA BOD President Merritt Blakeslee ( with any questions

The Board of Directors, West Harbor Pond Watershed Association

The CMP Osprey Box

Recently Central Maine Power (CMP), at the suggestion of the WHPWA leadership, installed an Osprey box on a power pole on the Route 27 Causeway.  For more information and photos, see: CMP installs osprey perch near West Harbor Pond | Boothbay Register.

Loons on the Pond

The summer of 2022 brought a loon couple to West Harbor Pond.  They mated and produced a chick that spent the summer cruising the Pond with "mom and dad".  They might be spotted in any area of the Pond, and often could be heard making themselves known at any hour of day--or night.  By late summer the chick had grown to a teenager. The breeding couple returned in 2023, and again produced a chick that grew to "tennagehood" before departing in the fall

WHPWA member Lois Glaser took a number of wonderful photos of the 2022 family escorting the chick around the Pond.  These can be viewed in gallery form on the page "Loon Family 2022".   As many people know, most loons avoid the proximity of humans, and tend to keep their distance. These close up photos were possible for several reasons: Because WHP is small and boating activity is quiet (mostly kayaks and canoes) the loons seemed to gradually habituate to human presence. As a result, respectful paddlers could sometimes get a bit closer than expected, or the loons would show up nearby, to the surprise of the kayaker or canoeist! The photographer has a good DSLR camera with a 400mm telephoto lens, enabling her to zoom in on the loons from afar. Many images were also cropped, making the loons appear much closer than they were in reality. 


In giving the loons the space they need, we are hopeful that the breeding pair will return again in 2024. We hope that all loons spotted on any body of water will be given this same respect.

For more information about loons, you might also want to look at the website About Loons – Loon Preservation Committee

loon.1 wk old-7269.jpg

Loon Photo by Lois Glaser

© 2024 by West Harbor Pond Watershed Association.

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