LEA’s mission is to preserve and restore the exceptional water quality of Maine’s lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands and the integrity of their watersheds.
The first Earth Day had just been celebrated and the federal Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t even begun when the Lakes Environmental Association was founded in Naples on May 26, 1970, to protect the lakes and lands of Western Maine “for your children and your children’s children.”
LEA’s first major effort was a survey showing the impacts of development and municipal discharges in Long Lake in 1971. The study prompted Bridgton and Naples to ban phosphate detergents. They were among the first towns in Maine to do so. A statewide ban went into effect the following year.
Today, protecting water quality remains LEA’s top priority. Thanks to financial support from area towns, members, foundations, and with help from volunteer monitors and the hard work of summer interns, LEA provides comprehensive water testing for 40 lakes. Because of this long-term program, more is known about LEA’s lakes than any others in the state.
Video: The LEA celebrates four decades of lake protection
Members also helped pass the state’s first bottle bill in Bridgton in 1973 and led long-running crusades to clean up the town’s dump and replace its “medieval” sewer system. LEA fought lengthy legal battles to enforce lake protection standards and played an integral role in the 1986 campaign against a federal nuclear dump.
LEA has conducted important research, such as the Long Lake Water Study, which helped set state standards for “budgeting” phosphorous over an entire watershed. Staff members also developed a computer mapping program that has become a national model for tracking the effects of land use on lakes.
In recent years, LEA has become a statewide leader in the battle against milfoil and other invasive plants. Executive Director Peter Lowell worked with former Rep. Richard Thompson of Naples and the Maine Legislature to pass the strongest milfoil laws in the nation. LEA also organizes the annual Maine Milfoil Summit and, in partnership with local towns and landowners, has built wash stations at Trickey Pond, Highland Lake, Woods Pond, and Moose Pond.
LEA’s early grassroots efforts have evolved into comprehensive programs and sophisticated technology. Confrontation has been largely replaced by cooperation. But one compelling theme can be traced through the organization’s history. For more than four decades, LEA has been dedicated to the belief that people will take care of Maine’s lakes if only they realize just how valuable and fragile they are.
“Most people truly have a spot in their hearts for the lakes and woods,” Lowell says. “Our job, as I see it, is to help them understand the resources that they care about and enlist their support in actively protecting them.”