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Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: PFAS

Join Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley for an early morning conversation about the work Friends of Casco Bay has been doing in partnership with Bigelow Laboratory on detecting per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Casco Bay.

On Thursday, March 21, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. grab a cup of coffee and hop online to hear about Friends of Casco Bay’s ongoing data collection of PFAS in Casco Bay. Whether you’re cozy on your couch, doing your morning routine, or listening on your phone while you walk the dog, join us for this informative event.

What: Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: PFAS
When: Wednesday, March 21, 8:00 to 8:45 a.m.
Where: Zoom, Register here to receive a link to attend

PFAS are chemicals that are used in a wide variety of products from clothing to firefighting foam. They break down slowly so they build up in our environment and are detrimental to human health. Last year, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Friends of Casco Bay partnered as we conducted the first study of PFAS in the waters of Casco Bay. Ivy will share an overview of PFAS monitoring at Friends of Casco Bay’s seasonal sites in 2023. Sara and Ivy will then talk about our more extensive plans to monitor the Bay and lower watershed for PFAS in 2024. All of this work is in collaboration with Bigelow Laboratory scientists, who developed the protocols and are analyzing the samples. We are excited to share our plans with you and how the data will help further our understanding of the health of our waters.

Sign up here! You must register to attend. Ivy and Sara look forward to sharing their morning with you.

Coffee with Casco Baykeeper Stormwater video

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Stormwater

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley met with folks for an early morning conversation about one of Casco Bay’s largest sources of pollution: stormwater.

Recent weather events are a reminder that stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Stormwater picks up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. It carries this toxic mix downstream and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems.

Ivy and Sara’s conversation over coffee focuses on the increasing impact stormwater has on Casco Bay and what Friends of Casco Bay is doing to help address this issue (sneak peek: it’s a lot!). They also share upcoming opportunities for you to use your voice to advocate for clean water. More than 110 Friends attended the event along with at least one reporter from the Portland Press Herald.

If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here.

 

 

 

 

Our Top 10 Moments of 2023

As this year comes to an end, let’s reflect and celebrate the many ways that we worked together to protect the health of Casco Bay in 2023. Here are our top ten stories of the year:

1) We won a four-year moratorium on new sources of pollution into the lower Presumpscot River. The moratorium prevents the permitting of new industrial or wastewater discharges into the river near where it empties into Casco Bay. As the Presumpscot drains two-thirds of the Casco Bay watershed, this was a big win for our waters. Portland Press Herald wrote an in-depth story on this effort. Our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca won the Chief Poulin Award for her work on the moratorium. Ivy is shown here receiving the award from Friends of the Presumpscot River board member, Will Plumley.

2) More than 100 of our volunteer Water Reporters deepened their knowledge about Casco Bay. Volunteer Water Reporters attended a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay this year. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up-to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.

3) The “Sensor Squad” is moving science forward for Casco Bay and all of Maine’s coastal waters. Good decisions are made using good data. Led, in part, by our Staff Scientist Mike Doan, the Sensor Squad is working to ensure we are using the most accurate climate change and acidification techniques and protocols we can. This work is a part of Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative, a coalition of scientists and marine organizations from the University of New Hampshire to the border of Maine and Canada working to improve climate change data collection. Friends of Casco Bay helps to lead the Collaborative.

4) Passamaquoddy Language Keeper Dwayne Tomah was the featured speaker at our Members Annual Meeting in August. He shared the Passamaquoddy word for ceremony, “olotahkewakon,” noting that our gathering was a ceremony for our mother earth. Dwayne’s refrain throughout the evening was “We are all in this together.” Watch the inspiring talk here.

5) We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater pollution from large urban communities. You may remember that we celebrated this stricter permit as our top story of 2022. Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Since the permit that regulates urban stormwater went into effect in July 2022, we have been working to ensure that it is properly implemented. In November, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection agreed with us that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must ensure that towns covered by the permit implement low-impact development ordinances that include nine strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment.

6) The City of South Portland launched 100 Resilient Yards, providing a grassroots way to bring best practices in yard care directly to neighborhoods around the city. Residents and businesses who took part in the program were given technical and physical assistance to build healthy soils that protect Casco Bay. Experts and volunteers helped residents build rain gardens, grow pollinator gardens, and more. We hope other towns around the Bay look at this program as a model!

7) We organized 15 fun coastal cleanups, including one with the surf rock band Easy Honey and one with the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. These cleanups gave community members a hands-on way to make a direct difference in the health of our waters by preventing waste and litter from being washed into the Bay.

8) We hired Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley! Over the past 10 months, Sara has become an integral part of our team. She’s helped deepen the knowledge of our Water Reporters, organized storm drain stenciling and coastal cleanups, and worked to expand our outreach efforts.

Pile of expired flares9) We helped organize an expired flare collection event in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Casco Bay and the Maine State Fire Marshall. The event was a great success, collecting 1,945 expired marine flares. Marine flares are pyrotechnic devices that boaters can use as a distress signal in emergencies. They burn at high temperatures, posing a serious fire hazard for long-term storage. Flares also contain toxic chemicals that can contaminate water and soil. Due to these hazardous qualities, it is illegal to throw flares in the trash, and ill-advised to store them at home.

Scenic Category Winner 1st Place, Student Category Winner, Best of Show, by Ava McKinley

10) We got in touch with our artistic side! Our online event, Water as Inspiration, brought together three regional artists to draw the connections between creativity, the environment, and climate change. We had dozens of submissions to “Frame the Bay,” our first-ever photo contest at our Members Annual Meeting. And we shared the stage with filmmaker Maximillian Armstrong at our Film Fest for Casco Bay.

As YOU know, Casco Bay is an inspiration! Thank you for helping us protect this amazing place and for being a Friend of Casco Bay.

Taking Action on Stormwater

Stormwater made the Presumpscot River discolored in May 2023. Documented by Water Reporter Stephanie Noyes.

Stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Instead of filtering into the soil, water sheets off these impervious surfaces, picking up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. Stormwater carries this toxic mix into our rivers, streams, and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems. While stormwater pollution is very difficult to eliminate because it is so diffuse, one of the ways we are working to reduce this pollution is through improving how the state protects our waters from this threat.

Here is some good news as we work to reduce stormwater pollution: the Maine Department of Environmental Protection asked Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, our lead advocate, to serve on the Steering Committee revising Maine’s stormwater rules. These rules apply to large developments in all municipalities in Maine.

The Steering Committee contains twenty members tasked with identifying how the stormwater rules should be strengthened. Ivy’s work will be informed by her years of experience working to reduce stormwater pollution. The Steering Committee met for the first time in December 2023.

The stormwater rules as currently written are out-of-date. They apply only to large developments and miss a lot of the actual development and redevelopment in our watershed. The rules also do not require the use of low-impact development (LID) strategies, such as leaving buffers near streams. While they have some incentives for the use of LID techniques, those incentives rarely tempt developers. Also, as our climate changes, the rules must be revised to account for future increasing storm intensities and precipitation.

The next meeting of the Steering Committee will be in January 2024. To keep you up-to-date about this important process, Friends of Casco Bay will host an event in early 2024 about stormwater pollution, the revision process, how YOU can get involved, and, of course, why it matters for Casco Bay! More information will be sent via email. Sign up for our email list here.

Protecting Casco Bay from Stormwater

Friends of Casco Bay works hard to reduce stormwater pollution. Stormwater delivers some of the largest loads of pollution into Casco Bay. As stormwater flows over our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings, it collects a toxic slurry. Instead of filtering into the soil, water sheets off these impervious surfaces, picking up pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. Stormwater carries this toxic mix into our rivers and streams, and ultimately into Casco Bay, causing a host of water quality problems.

While stormwater pollution is very difficult to eliminate because it is so diffuse, we are making progress on this threat by ensuring that the Clean Water Act permits that regulate stormwater are effectively implemented.

We have good news to share on this front. We maintained the strength of the permit that regulates stormwater discharged from large urban stormwater systems into our watershed through a successful appeal to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection.

You may remember that last year we celebrated that Maine’s new municipal separate storm sewer system (or, “MS4” as it is called) permit went into effect. For the first time, towns subject to the permit were required to develop LID ordinances to reduce pollution to the “maximum extent possible.”

Late last year, the municipalities subject to this permit submitted their draft ordinances to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for approval. To comply with the MS4 permit, the ordinances should have included nine mandatory LID strategies designed to reduce stormwater pollution from new construction and redevelopment. Although the drafts submitted by municipalities in our watershed did not contain all of these necessary elements, DEP approved the drafts.

To ensure the MS4 permit was properly implemented, we appealed DEP’s approval of the incomplete ordinances to the Board of Environmental Protection, a seven-member citizen board that provides independent decisions on the interpretation and enforcement of Maine’s environmental laws. This was our second appeal to the Board involving this MS4 permit, a decision that we did not take lightly but was needed to protect the Bay.

In November 2023, the Board of Environmental Protection agreed that DEP should not have approved the insufficient draft ordinances. The Board vacated the approvals and ordered DEP “to expeditiously set clear, specific, and measurable standards for the municipal LID ordinances.” The municipalities the order applies to include Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Freeport, Gorham, Portland, Saco, Scarborough,  South Portland, Westbrook, Windham, and Yarmouth.

We will continue to participate in the process to be certain the redrafted ordinances contain all of the necessary elements.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca Receives Chief Poulin Award

In November 2023, Friends of the Presumpscot River (FOPR) gave our lead advocate, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, the Chief Poulin Award, at their annual Three Sisters Dinner. Ivy was given the award for her work to bring together Bay lovers, river advocates, and legislators to pass a four-year moratorium on new discharges into the Presumpscot River, near where the river empties into Casco Bay. This legislation was a big win for the Bay and for the Presumpscot. Congratulations, Ivy! Friends of Casco Bay is proud to have FOPR as a partner in the watershed.

How we are moving science forward

Sensor Squad Moves Science Forward

We rely on scientific data on the health of Casco Bay to inform our advocacy and stewardship efforts.

Good decisions are made using good data. That’s the idea behind the Maine Ocean Climate Collaborative.

“The Collaborative is made up of some of the best saltwater scientists in Maine,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “By sharing research and knowledge of climate change science, water quality monitoring issues, and ocean climate policies, we can better protect all of our coastal waters.”

Ivy coordinates the Collaborative, which includes Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, Bowdoin College, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Downeast Institute, Friends of Casco Bay, Governor’s Office of Policy, Innovation, and the Future, Island Institute, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, University of New Hampshire’s Ocean Processes Analysis Laboratory (OPAL), and Wells  National Estuarine Research Reserve (Wells Reserve).

Staff Scientist Mike Doan (left photo) and Science and Advocacy Associate Heather Kenyon (right photo) are working with colleagues up and down Maine’s coast to improve our collective knowledge of how acidification and climate change may be affecting our waters.

A key part of the Collaborative’s current work is to develop a report of recommended equipment, sampling techniques, and quality assurance protocols to serve as a guide for researchers, agencies, and institutions up and down Maine’s coast to better monitor climate change and acidification. For this effort, Friends of Casco Bay Staff Scientist Mike Doan is working closely with colleagues from OPAL and Wells Reserve.

“We call ourselves the ‘Sensor Squad,’” says Mike. “Staff from Wells Reserve and Friends of Casco Bay are testing equipment and protocols in real-world conditions and comparing our data to OPAL’s gold standard. The goal is to ensure we are getting the most accurate climate change and acidification data we can. As the science evolves, we have to evolve, too.”

While the “Sensor Squad” may not look like superheroes, by working together, the scientists are helping improve Maine’s understanding of climate change.

“While our mission is all about Casco Bay, we recognize that climate change doesn’t stop at the watershed’s border,” says Executive Director Will Everitt. “The State of Maine can use our work as a model for what a statewide monitoring program can look like. When state agencies who are tasked with managing and protecting our marine ecosystems have better data, ultimately that helps Casco Bay and all of our coastal waters.”

 

The work of the “Sensor Squad” is supported by generous grants from Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, donor-advised funds at the Maine Community Foundation, and by Friends of Casco Bay’s members. 

Presumpscot Celebration

You’re invited to celebrate the healthy future of the Lower Presumpscot with Friends of Casco Bay and Friends of the Presumpscot River!

Where: Riverton Trolley Park and Allagash Brewing Company in Portland
When: Thursday, July 13, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Join us at Riverton Trolley Park on the banks of the Presumpscot to hear about how the new moratorium on industrial and wastewater discharges into the river supports the health of the Casco Bay watershed. After some brief remarks at the park, we will head to nearby Allagash Brewing to raise a toast and celebrate.

Please RSVP by emailing keeper@cascobay.org.

We hope to see you there!

Great news for the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay

Presumpscot Falls is a natural haven that many visit for recreation and solace in the middle of Maine’s most densely populated and continuously developing region. The Falls are located in the lower Presumpscot River, which currently has only Class C protections (see our fact sheet linked below for more information).

The largest river that flows into Casco Bay is officially protected from new sources of pollution under Maine law! A four-year moratorium on new industrial or wastewater discharges into the Lower Presumpscot River was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Mills on Friday.

The Lower Presumpscot flows from Saccarappa Falls in downtown Westbrook to head of tide along the Portland-Falmouth border. This section of river was historically heavily polluted by untreated industrial discharges. Today it is a thriving urban waterway thanks to years of restoration efforts under the Clean Water Act. Temporarily preventing new discharges into the river – for example, from a new factory or other industry – will protect the Lower Presumpscot’s substantial gains in water quality while a long-term solution is identified to preserve the river’s health.

“The Presumpscot River drains two-thirds of the Casco Bay watershed,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “Flowing from pristine headlands through some of Maine’s most densely populated and diverse neighborhoods, this river is intimately tied to the health of Casco Bay, the wildlife it supports, and the people who live here. Protecting the Lower Presumpscot from new discharges over the next four years will help us figure out how to more permanently protect the health of the river.”

If you were one of the many Friends of the Bay who submitted testimony in favor of the moratorium, thank you. The legislators truly heard the importance of the connection between the health of the river and the Bay, strengthening their support for the moratorium. We are also grateful for our partners at Friends of the Presumpscot River and their leadership on this effort. You are all Friends of Casco Bay!

If you want to learn more about the many reasons we supported the moratorium, check out the fact sheet on our website. In short, we believe this bill supports our region’s growing communities, the local economy, and most importantly, the health of the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay.

If you would like to celebrate this clean water victory, we would love for you to join us in Portland on July 13! Click here to learn more and RSVP.

Fact Sheet: Presumpscot River Discharge Moratorium, LD 1926

Protect the restored health of the lower Presumpscot River: the largest freshwater source to Casco Bay

LD 1926, An Act to Impose a Moratorium on New Point Source Waste Discharge Licenses on the Lower Presumpscot River, places a four-year moratorium on new pollution discharges into the river from downtown Westbrook to head of tide.

Presumpscot Falls is a natural haven that many visit for recreation and solace in the middle of Maine’s most densely populated and continuously developing region. The Falls are located in the lower Presumpscot River, which currently has only Class C protections.

This bill provides emergency, temporary, and necessary water quality protection for the lower Presumpscot River. This section of the river is designated a Class C water, though it functions at or near Class B following years of restoration efforts.* LD 1926 places a four-year moratorium on new point source discharges into the lower Presumpscot River. Temporarily preventing new discharges will protect the Presumpscot’s substantial restorative gains in water quality until stakeholders agree on a plan for long-term protection.

  • The lower Presumpscot River is designated as Class C, but in almost all respects meets the higher Class B water quality standards. This is a remarkable improvement in water quality as the lower Presumpscot was once known as “the dirtiest little section of river in the state,” and could not meet Class C standards.** 
  • The Presumpscot River drains two thirds of the Casco Bay watershed. The river has a significant influence on the health of the Casco Bay estuary and its many species that depend on both fresh- and saltwater habitat. 20% of Maine’s population lives in the Casco Bay watershed, an area that represents only 3% of land in Maine. 
  • This four-year moratorium will preserve the river’s significant advances in water quality. These advances have restored habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife. At the same time, the lower Presumpscot has seen a surge in recreational use and property values along its shores. This section of river flows through Maine’s most densely populated and ever growing region, from revitalized downtown Westbrook to head of tide in Falmouth. 
  • The moratorium allows for continued operation of existing discharges and will not thwart urban growth. The existing discharges are the Portland Water District, Westbrook Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the Sappi Mill. They are all permitted with ample discharge capacity to treat current and future wastewater loads, and to continue commercial operations. 
  • The four years allotted in this moratorium will allow sufficient time to finish studies of the lower Presumpscot River and determine appropriate means of protecting water quality, including a potential upgrade to Class B status. 

*Under the Clean Water Act, bodies of water in Maine are classified as Class AA, A, B, or C based on their health. Class AA and A waters are the healthiest and receive the highest protections. Class C waters allow for some modification to natural conditions caused by human activity, but must still be swimmable, drinkable, and fishable.
**
Robert M. Sanford et al., River Voices: Perspectives on the Presumpscot, North Country Press, Unity, ME, 2020. p. 239.

The Presumpscot to Casco Bay:

  • The lower Presumpscot River flows through downtown Westbrook, along the northern border of Portland, to head of tide in Falmouth. 
  • The Presumpscot provides habitat for fish that live part of their life in the ocean and part in rivers, including commercially important species like alewives and American eels. The only remaining area for commercial elver fishing is just below the head of tide. The river also provides nesting and hunting grounds for many sea birds. 
  • The Presumpscot is the largest river that flows into Casco Bay. Its freshwater inputs to the bay support the health of the estuary, including the nursery grounds for countless species. We need a healthy Presumpscot River to have a healthy Casco Bay. 
  • Together, the environmental health of the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay sustain our regional economy and quality of life. These waters draw many to the region for work, play, and solace. 
  • The lower Presumpscot River is heavily used for recreation. People swim and fish in areas that were once too polluted for human contact and fish consumption. The lower Presumpscot hosts public trails, preserves, and boat launches. There are many areas for fishing, as well as locations for swimming, tubing and white water kayaking. Its waters flow past Maine Audubon’s Gilsland Farm as it enters the bay, another highly visited nature preserve that showcases the ecology of the estuary, such as jumping sturgeon.
  • The lower Presumpscot River is rich in indigenous and colonial history. In 2019 the Falmouth Town Council adopted a resolution designating this stretch of the river “The Lower Presumpscot Historic and Natural River Corridor.”
Whitewater kayakers paddle Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook (credit: westbrookmaine.com).

Fact Sheet: Presumpscot River Discharge Moratorium, LD 1926