About the Watershed
The New Meadows River is located in the northeastern corner of Casco Bay in Maine. Its 23 square mile watershed stretches across five municipalities: Bath to the north, Brunswick and Harpswell to the west, and West Bath and Phippsburg to the east. Click here to enlarge the watershed map, pictured right.
With very little fresh water flow, the New Meadows is not technically a river, but rather an embayment -- a long, narrow projection off Casco Bay. Salinity levels in the New Meadows Lake and River are close to that of the ocean. The New Meadows' rich glacial sediment and varied topography support a wide variety of plant and animal species, and its shellfish beds are known for their high productivity.
Long valued for its natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and productive shellfisheries, the New Meadows is a vital resource to all those who live, work, and play in the watershed. While the total population of the five municipalities surrounding the New Meadows is close to 40,000, the number living in the watershed itself is estimated to be less than two thousand, making it a relatively undeveloped area within the more densely settled Casco Bay region.
Despite the small size of its shellfish flats, the New Meadows River produces an estimated 7.5% of Maine’s entire soft-shell clam harvest. Quahogs are also commercially harvested, and American oysters are raised at aquaculture sites in the River. The New Meadows’ productive shellfish beds support the local economy, providing jobs for more than 200 commercial diggers.
The New Meadows is a significant recreational asset in the region, offering opportunities for boating, swimming, sight-seeing, and angling. Public access to the River is provided through a boat launch and marina.
The New Meadows River area was first inhabited by Native Americans of the Pejepscot and Kennebec tribes. Evidence suggests that an early European fishing outpost in the southernmost area of the New Meadows River may have been established as early as 1018. This was followed by a transient colonial settlement established around 1607, and permanent settlement of the upper New Meadows River began around the mid-1600s.
Since that time, the population of the area has increased steadily, as people are drawn to the area's natural beauty, resources, and quality of life. The watershed's population more than doubled during the latter half of the 20th century, and this trend is expected to continue into the future.
The most significant man-made impact to the New Meadows River was the 1937 construction of a causeway between Brunswick and West Bath, which effectively dammed the upper portion of the embayment and reduced tidal range to inches instead of feet. In the 1960s, another causeway was constructed, bisecting the upper and lower sections of the River into two "lakes." These tidal restrictions have caused low dissolved oxygen levels, eutrophication and loss of intertidal habitat.
Another human impact on water quality in the River is the prevalence of overboard discharge (OBD) systems, outhouses, and straight pipes. Because these systems can discharge improperly treated sewage into the River, they have caused hundreds of acres of shellfish habitat to be closed to harvesting. The NMWP is working with residents, towns and the Maine Departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Protection to remove OBDs in the New Meadows.
While water quality is generally good in many parts of the of the River, the northern areas and Lakes consistently exhibit some of the lowest dissolved oxygen levels in Casco Bay. This is exacerbated by high nutrient levels and associated algal blooms. Low dissolved oxygen episodes during warmer months can exacerbate periodic fish kills such as the infamous menhaden die-off of the early 1990’s.
Much of the River and its shellfish growing areas are safe for harvesting and consumption. However, actual and potential sources of bacterial contamination often cause a substantial portion of the shoreline to be closed to shellfish harvesting.
Testing for toxic metals and chemicals in lobsters, mussels, and sediments has shown that, with only a few exceptions, levels of these contaminants in the New Meadows River are good.
The New Meadows River offers abundant recreation opportunities, from boating and kayaking to hiking and sight-seeing. Below are a few resources to help you get out and enjoy the watershed.
Southern Mid-Coast Maine Chamber of Commerce: info on area amenities and attractions -- including beaches, lighthouses, museums, restaurants, and festivals
New Meadows Marina: full-service marina located at 450 Bath Road, Brunswick, Maine
Public Boat Launching Sites: Sawyer Park in Brunswick and Sabino & Mountain Roads in West Bath provide direct access to the New Meadows
Seaspray Kayaking: guided tours, rentals, and instructions, 320 State Road West Bath, Maine
Hiking Trails: list of trails in the southern mid-coast region
WHAT IS A WATERSHED?
A watershed is all the land area that drains into a particular water body. The New Meadows River watershed covers 23 square miles and includes portions of five towns: Phippsburg (46% of total watershed area), West Bath (33%), Brunswick (11%), Harpswell (9%), and Bath (1%).
State of the New Meadows River: a comprehensive report on the environmental status of the New Meadows River and its watershed, prepared in 2002 by MER Assessment Corporation
Location & status of overboard discharges, Department of Environmental Protection
Current bacteria and rainfall shellfish classifications, Department of Marine Resources (DMR)
Weather information, West Bath Town Hall