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Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Support of LD 1832: An Act To Ensure Adequate Funding for the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Waste Discharge Licensing Program

January 15, 2020

Senator Brownie Carson
Representative Ralph Tucker
Environment and Natural Resources Committee
c/o Legislative Information Office 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333
ENR [at] legislature [dot] maine [dot] gov

Re: Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Support of LD 1832: An Act To Ensure Adequate Funding for the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System and Waste Discharge Licensing Program

Dear Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and Distinguished Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee,

Friends of Casco Bay offers the following testimony in support of LD 1832: An Act To Ensure Adequate Funding for the Maine Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (MEPDES) and Waste Discharge Licensing (WDL) Program. This funding is critical to Maine’s continued success in improving and protecting the health of its waters for sustenance, commerce, recreation, and solace.
For 30 years, Friends of Casco Bay has worked to improve and protect the health of Casco Bay. During our tenure, we have advocated for and witnessed improved water quality through the MEPDES permit program. Here are three examples:

  • MEPDES permits have reduced bacteria and toxic pollutant loads to Casco Bay and its tributaries, resulting in healthier waters for fishing and recreation.
  • Recent permits have required sewage treatment facilities that discharge into Casco Bay to test for nitrogen and, in some instances, reduce nitrogen loads to Casco Bay. Excess nitrogen can fertilize large blooms of macro-algae that smother marine life and harmful micro-algal blooms that can close areas to harvesting and aquaculture. As the blooms die, they release carbon dioxide, which mixes with sea water to make it more acidic. This process is known as coastal acidification. The East End wastewater treatment facility in Portland has seasonally reduced its nitrogen load by an average of 64-70% over the past two years. Eelgrass beds near the discharge pipe are beginning to rebound and an algal bloom that had been present in outer Back Cove disappeared.
  • In the near future, we hope to see more stringent terms in the general permit that regulates stormwater discharges from municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4 permit). The comment period on the draft MS4 permit recently closed. Based on the draft, the new MS4 permit likely will include testing for certain pollutants in the storm water system to eliminate sources and also measures to help restore urban impaired streams.

This level of success cannot continue without adequate funding and staffing at DEP. The funding requested in LD 1832 represents a fraction of the budget needed to run the MEPDES program and a wise investment to improve and protect the waters that form a backbone of our economy and way of life.

The MEPDES program and its role in restoring and protecting Maine waters: Senator Edmund Muskie introduced the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA). He knew firsthand that Maine’s rivers and coastal waters were fouled with industrial chemicals that made people sick and poisoned waters for drinking, fishing and swimming. The CWA created the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) program. That program makes it illegal for facilities (known as point sources) to discharge pollutants to waters of the United States without a permit. The permit limits the amount of pollutants that can be discharged, in order to maintain or restore water quality; it is illegal to degrade water quality. NPDES permits are issued for 5 year terms, allowing regulators to adjust limits based on new technology or new water quality issues. The CWA also allows for enforcement when permit terms are violated.

The CWA authorizes EPA to delegate its authority to states to run the NPDES program, subject to federal oversight. If a state does not run its program effectively, EPA can take back control.

In April 2000, EPA delegated its NPDES authority to Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Our program became known as the MEPDES permit program.

The Memorandum of Agreement authorizing this delegation of authority requires Maine to process permits in a timely manner, comprehensively evaluate and assess compliance, take vigorous and timely enforcement actions, maintain effective pretreatment programs, and issue annual reports to EPA. To fulfill the terms of this agreement, DEP must have adequate staff and funding.

Why a fee increase is needed: To fulfill the terms of this agreement, DEP must have adequate staff and funding to administer the approximately 940 MEPDES permits it issues to about 400 point source discharges, 500 facilities under the Industrial Stormwater Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP), and 40 entities licensed under the MS4 general permit.

The legislature has not approved a fee increase since 2008. Maine needs these license fees to partially fund the MEPDES program.

According to DEP, it has only 28 core staff (Full Time Equivalents – FTEs) to cover licensing, compliance/technical assistance, enforcement, administration, data management, and the water quality monitoring/modeling inherent to the MEPDES program. Only 6 of those positions are funded by licensing fees. The other 22 positions are funded by federal grants, state general fund, and State Revolving Fund administrative revenue. Two of the federally funded positions (enforcement and permitting) have been held vacant for several years due to a projected shortfall in a federal water grant account. This has led to a backlog of enforcement cases and delays in licensing. In addition, a stormwater inspector position that is funded by stormwater license fees has been held vacant due to insufficient revenue to fill the position.

LD 1832 seeks a 40% across the board fee increase to keep the MEPDES program solvent through FY 2026. Based on conversations with DEP officials, it appears that the State has done what it can to minimize fee increases and to not shift undue financial burden to permittees, which includes municipalities. This investment in clean water may appear difficult but is a modest fee increase when compared to the expenses of restoring impaired waters and the possibility of losing our delegated authority to run the MEPDES program, if the State is unable to fulfill its obligations.

For these reasons, we urge you to vote that LD 1832 ought to pass.

Respectfully submitted,

Ivy L. Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay
43 Slocum Drive
South Portland, ME 04106
Office: (207) 799-8574 ext. 202
Cell: (207) 831-3067
ifrignoca [at] cascobay [dot] org

Cc: Sabrina Carey

Three decades of success – the impact of Friends of Casco Bay

Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay.

  • We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in Maine.
  • We have secured better long-term protection through Clean Water Act classification upgrades for three areas of Casco Bay, ensuring stricter, permanent pollution restrictions.
  • Our water quality data are sent to Congress every two years; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection uses our data in its Clean Water Act biennial reporting to Congress and would not be in compliance without it.
  • We advocated for Portland to get back on track—and we continue to push to keep efforts on track— to fulfill its court-ordered agreement to clean up and eliminate dozens of combined sewer overflows, reducing the amount of raw sewage flowing into the Bay.
  • We are leading the call to reduce nitrogen discharges into our coastal waters. We forged an agreement with Portland Water District, which set a goal of reducing nitrogen coming out of the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. During the summer of 2018, they reduced nitrogen levels by 70%, on average.
  • Our data and advocacy inspired South Portland and Portland to pass the strictest ordinances in the state to reduce pollution from pesticides. Harpswell also passed a pesticide ordinance with our input, and other communities are considering similar restrictions.
  • We convinced the legislature to form an Ocean Acidification Commission to investigate and make policy recommendations to address our acidifying waters.
  • We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the work of researchers, government officials, and advocates to reduce acidification and address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper currently serves as the coordinator of MOCA.
  • We successfully advocated for Portland to pass an ordinance designed to discourage single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. The bag ordinance, in turn, inspired Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, and eight other towns in the state to pass similar laws. We also won a polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam) ban in Portland.
  • Our BayScaping Program is teaching thousands of residents and landscaping professionals to grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue; this is the model for the state of Maine’s YardScaping Program.
  • Our Casco Bay Curriculum has reached an estimated 17,500 students. We help teachers incorporate our monitoring data into their classroom activities. We have provided professional development courses for more than 700 teachers.
  • We fought to improve the S.D.Warren (now SAPPI) paper mill’s Clean Water Act discharge permit, significantly cutting the pollution released into our waters.
  • We helped lead the response to the largest oil spill in Maine history, the Julie N, and assisted responders in recovering an unprecedented 78% of the spilled oil (a 15-20% recovery is considered a success).
  • We were a founding member of Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999, a network that has grown to include over 300 Baykeepers, Riverkeepers, and other Waterkeepers

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

As always, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca has been on the move, working across Casco Bay, the state—and the nation—on efforts to protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

A peek into her appointment calendar shows some of the highlights so far this year, as she continued to track Legislative issues and to comment on proposed wastewater and stormwater discharge permits that the Department of Environmental Protection issues to municipalities.

January

I became coordinator of the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) for 2018.

I will help coordinate research and advocacy on ocean acidification with a strong statewide network of policy makers, fishermen, shellfish growers, and scientists. This year-long role supports our work examining coastal acidification and excess nitrogen.

February

I invited Portland’s Water Resources Manager, Nancy Gallinaro, and Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, Scott Firmin, to travel with me to meet the new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 1 Administrator, Alexandra Dapolito Dunn. We highlighted our joint efforts to reduce nitrogen pollution, combined sewer overflows, and stormwater pollution to Casco Bay. I shared our data showing the impacts of climate change on Casco Bay.

Our Casco Baykeeper meets EPA Administrator Alex Dunn.

 

Administrator Dunn accepted our invitation to come to Maine in June to attend a meeting of the Maine Nutrient Council, a group convened by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Afterward, Administrator Dunn will tour the Bay on our Baykeeper boat, a great opportunity for a close-up view of issues that threaten the water quality of Casco Bay.

March

Senator Angus King greets fellow Mainers Bill Mook, Hattie Train, Ivy Frignoca, and Richard Nelson.

I traveled to Washington, DC, at the invitation of Ocean Conservancy, to meet with our Congressional delegation and ask for full funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the EPA. The measures we pressed for passed in the omnibus budget!

Back in Maine, I submitted comments opposing offshore drilling and then attended a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, to voice Friends of Casco Bay’s opposition to offshore drilling. I supported a resolve that was passed unanimously by our state legislature expressing its opposition to offshore drilling.

April

I testified at a public hearing as we worked to swiftly defeat a bill that would have practically eliminated the ability of municipalities to pass pesticide ordinances. If you contacted legislators after receiving our email alert about this issue, thank you! The bill was defeated!

I traveled to New Hampshire to attend a meeting of experts concerned about the rise in harmful algal blooms throughout the region, so we could learn more about new species appearing in Casco Bay.

May

I attended a meeting in West Bath, which drew together people who live and work along the New Meadows River, to discuss how expanding efforts in aquaculture may figure into the many uses of the estuary.

Research Associate Mike Doan gave Kate Simpson and Kayla McMurray, staffers for Senator Susan Collins, a ride to our Continuous Monitoring Station in Yarmouth. I met them at our “Cage of Science” as we demonstrated how we use technology to monitor the Bay hourly, 365 days a year. We explained that though we do not receive funding directly from the EPA, the Agency has a vital role in advising state regulators on strategies to reduce pollution, funding other research, and enforcing the Clean Water Act. This work helps us all protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

June

The Portland Water District (PWD) hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of the massive, $12 million project that upgraded the aeration system at the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility. This improvement could ultimately reduce nitrogen in the treated sewage released into the Bay by up to 1000 lbs. a day! PWD’s General Manager Carrie Lewis recognized our contribution “to understanding the issues affecting Casco Bay and make positive contributions towards collaborative solutions.”

The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.

The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is a volunteer partnership that seeks to coordinate the work of governmental agencies and private organizations and citizens who are studying and implementing means to reduce the impacts of or help adapt to ocean and coastal acidification.

With my colleagues in the MOCA Partnership, I hosted a workshop for nearly 60 scientists, harvesters, policy makers, and advocates on What We Know about Ocean Acidification and Maine’s Lobsters. The event at Bowdoin College featured current research on the effects of climate change on lobsters and emphasized the need for ecosystem-level, long-term studies.

As the year progresses, I look forward to continuing to keep you updated on the biggest issues affecting the health of the waters we all love.

Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District

Historic Agreement to Cut Nitrogen by 20-40%

Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District
Sewage Treatment Plant courtesy of Portland Water District

Imagine if we could remove 500 to 1,000 pounds of excess nitrogen from the Bay each day. An historic effort by Portland Water District may do just that!

After nearly a year of work, the Portland Water District and Friends of Casco Bay developed an agreement aimed at reducing nitrogen pollution from sewage effluent. The collaboration helped the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) develop a 139-page,
five-year permit for the City of Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility, which is managed by the Water District, that will better protect water quality. The permit was issued on March 22, 2017.

The $12 million upgrade to the plant’s aeration system may help reduce nitrogen in the plant’s effluent waters by 500 to 1,000 pounds each day!

The aim is to reduce nitrogen loading in the discharges from the plant by 20-40% within five years. This is the first wastewater discharge permit in Maine to address nitrogen levels and is now a model for other communities.

A History of Our Work to Reduce Nitrogen in Casco Bay
In 2007, Friends of Casco Bay helped persuade the Maine Legislature to pass a law requiring the Maine DEP to establish a limit on how much nitrogen may be discharged into coastal waters. Instead of following the Legislature’s lead, DEP has chosen to limit nitrogen permit by permit in Casco Bay. This had led Friends of Casco Bay to work with DEP, municipalities, and businesses, to help set realistic limits on nitrogen in Clean Water Act discharge permits issued to sewage treatment plants and industrial facilities.

We are working with the City of Portland on its Combined Sewer Overflow Remediation Project that will help reduce
nitrogen-laden sewage overflows into the Bay.

Our pumpout boat removes raw sewage—another source of nitrogen—from the holding tanks of recreational boats and transports, for onshore disposal. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Our BayScaping program works with residents and municipalities to help keep fertilizers and pesticides from polluting the Bay. We present BayScaping Socials to help neighbors reduce the use of lawn chemicals. With our support, South Portland passed an ordinance to restrict pesticide use, with an assurance to tackle fertilizers next. Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served on the Portland Pesticide Task Force as that city considers a similar ordinance.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District Staff on Baykeeper Boat

A Major Step Toward a Cleaner Casco Bay

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District Staff on Baykeeper BoatExcess nitrogen in our coastal waters can lead to harmful algal blooms, slime-covered coves, and more acidic conditions, all of which stress our coastal critters. Where does it come from? Sewage, animal waste, fertilizers, rainwater, snowmelt, and air pollution.

What we flush down the toilets of 65,000 Portland residents, as well as what is flushed through visitor and commercial facilities, passes through the sewage treatment plant that the Portland Water District manages. That treated effluent is a major source of excess nitrogen to Casco Bay.

With a $12 million upgrade to the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility, the Portland Water District aims to reduce nitrogen in effluent water by 20-40% within five years. This effort may prevent 500 to 1,000 pounds of nitrogen from getting into Casco Bay each day.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Scott Firmin, Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, worked diligently for nearly a year on an agreement to reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater from the East End wastewater treatment plant. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection incorporated their recommendations into a five-year wastewater discharge permit it recently issued for the East End facility.

The Portland Water District plans to:

  • Work toward major reductions in nitrogen in the treated wastewater it releases into Casco Bay
  • Test nitrogen levels in its effluent weekly to measure progress toward meeting the goal of a 20-40% reduction within five years
  • Collaborate with the City of Portland and other stakeholders in a coordinated effort to reduce nitrogen pollution from multiple sources

“We applaud the Portland Water District for its forward-thinking approach that may serve as a model for other Maine communities,” says Ivy. “But we still need folks to pick up pet wastes and stop using fertilizers. Those individual efforts help keep nitrogen pollution from getting into Casco Bay. What each of us does to help the Bay does make a difference!”