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Category: Stormwater Pollution

July 26—The Day the Poop Hit the Bay

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

On July 26, 1.69 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater overflowed from Portland’s East End Sewage Treatment Facility into Casco Bay. This story made the news and captured our attention. That same day, 9.85 million gallons of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), containing raw sewage and toxic chemicals, also entered the Bay. Not a single news outlet reported that fact.

So while swimmers—especially those preparing for the Peaks to Portland Swim—worried about the impact of the partially-treated discharge from the East End plant (wastewater that had already had solids removed and been chlorinated to kill bacteria), we worried about the close to 10 million gallons of a far more toxic slurry that entered the Bay.

On that day, the combined sewer overflow at Mackworth Street discharged 824,000 gallons of untreated water and the CSO at Dartmouth Street discharged 833,000 gallons into Back Cove. The India Street CSO discharged 415,000 gallons and the Long Wharf CSO released 563,000 gallons of untreated water into Portland Harbor.

Polluted water gushes into Casco Bay from a combined sewer overflow beneath Portland’s busy waterfront.
Photo credit: Dave Laliberte

What is a Combined Sewer Overflow?
Combined sewer systems are relics of the past that we are still using today. In Portland and many cities across the county, these systems were designed to collect—and combine— sewage and stormwater in the same pipes. Most of the time, the pipes transport all the collected wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged into a body of water. But when we experience heavy rains or snowmelt, the runoff entering the system exceeds the capacity of the pipes. When the pipes fill to certain levels, these antiquated systems are designed to dump a mix of stormwater, untreated waste, toxic materials, and debris directly into the ocean, or into nearby streams and rivers that flow into the Bay.

These periodic discharges are far more concerning to us than a one-time breach at the East End facility. For over 25 years, Friends of Casco Bay has been pushing the City to eliminate these combined sewer overflows. We are very supportive of Portland’s current work to separate combined pipes, build storage tanks, and eliminate CSOs. Over the next two years, as Casco Baykeeper, I will represent Friends of Casco Bay as a member of the stakeholder team that helps shepherd a process called integrated planning, which will enable the City to meet these objectives efficiently and in ways that best improve water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency created the integrated planning approach to help municipalities such as Portland meet multiple Clean Water Act requirements by identifying efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs and sequencing investments so that the highest priority projects come first. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and provide multiple benefits that enhance community vitality.

We will continue to participate, as we have for over 25 years, to help ensure that these combined efforts achieve more effective and timely improvements in water quality in Casco Bay.


What you can do to reduce stormwater and sewage pollution

  • Support communities’ efforts to upgrade their wastewater and stormwater systems.
  • Employ “green solutions” to reduce stormwater runoff from our own properties:
    • install permeable pavement on driveways and patios, so water percolates into the soil below
    • reduce the size of the lawn; plant shrubs and ground cover, which hold water better then turf
    • use rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs
    • Boaters should use shoreside bathroom facilities or pumpout services to keep raw sewage out of the Bay.
      Our pumpout boat operates from Memorial Day to Halloween. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.

Stormwater: the Largest Source of Pollution into Casco Bay

Presumscot River Creates a Brown Bay
A wedge of polluted fresh water floats on top of Casco Bay.

MS4. Unless you are a civil engineer or a municipal public works director charged with dealing with discharge permits, you may not know that “MS4” stands for municipal separate storm sewer systems (called MS4 because “s” is repeated four times). An MS4 is a system of storm drains, pipes, or ditches that collect and carry stormwater, untreated, into our waterways (not to a sewage treatment facility).

To reduce stormwater pollution, the Clean Water Act requires larger cities and towns to develop an MS4 plan that includes six Minimum Control Measures: public education, public involvement and participation, illicit discharge
detection and elimination (finding and eliminating sources of contamination that improperly enter the pipes), construction measures designed to reduce stormwater pollution, post construction inspections to ensure compliance, and municipal pollution prevention practices.

MS4 permits for these plans must be renewed every five years. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is participating in the stakeholder process initiated by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection, as it drafts the next MS4 permit.
You may have noticed that storms are more intesne, and the pollutants that rainstorms are flushing into the Bay are increasing dramatically. After one heavy rainstorm, we found a wedge of polluted stormwater 18 feet deep floating on top of seawater in Portland Harbor. Ivy worries,“Imagine what it would be like for a fish trying to navigate through that toxic mix of oil and gas from city streets, pesticides, bacteria, and nitrogen pollution from sewage and fertilizers!”

Ivy says, “The goal is to improve water quality and reduce nitrogen inputs and other pollutants. Reviewing and commenting on drafts of the next MS4 permit gives us an opportunity to help reduce the impacts of the largest source of pollution into Casco Bay.”

After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.

Rainstorms – We’ve Had Some Doozies!

Presumscot River Creates a Brown BayThis past week’s deluge (5.6 inches in Portland) reminded us of the storm last summer, on August 13, 2014 (6.4 inches in Portland) when Casco Bay changed color – from blue to ghastly. We’ve seen the Bay turn brown, brown yellow, brown green – anything but blue, with anything-but-fresh rainwater sitting on it, mixing with it, polluting it.

The spring storms of 2012 prompted Joe Payne, now our Casco Baykeeper Emeritus, to pen this piece, which we repost here for reflection.



The Bay is brown, the Bay is hurt

Posted on May 8, 2012 by Joe Payne

People have often asked Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne what he thinks about during a big rainstorm . . .

As April showers gave way to May showers, I couldn’t help thinking about the effect on Casco Bay. During and after a rainstorm, a brown stain spreads far out from the shore. The rainwater runoff carries soil, gas and oil from city streets, and fertilizers and pesticides from yards into marine habitats.

For a day or two, the expanse of brown water is all too visible, but its impact is quickly forgotten as the seawater returns to its normal color. Many people don’t make a connection between a big rainstorm and our coastal waters, but it always worries me. Once, after a particularly heavy rain storm, scientists at Friends of Casco Bay measured 15 feet of freshwater runoff floating on top of the seawater near Fort Gorges. Freshwater kills marine organisms.

But that is not the worst part. Whenever there is a measurable rainfall, Casco Bay is injected with millions upon millions of gallons of polluted water. This toxic soup can sicken swimmers, make seafood unsafe to eat, and harm marine life. Big rainstorms cause productive clam flats in Casco Bay to be closed because of widespread pollution.

Why does this happen? In order to keep sewage from backing up into homes or spurting up through manhole covers when it rains, many Maine communities have built systems of underground pipes that divert stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into streams, rivers, and the ocean. These systems are called Combined Sewer Overflows, and they can disgorge several million gallons of raw sewage, industrial waste, and polluted stormwater. More sewage is flushed into the ocean after only primary treatment, where screening and settling tanks remove less than half the pollutants.

Untold millions of gallons of polluted runoff flow into the Bay, as the whole landscape is washed by inches of rain. Roads, drains, and stormwater pipes bypass the sewage treatment system entirely and shoot polluted rainwater straight into streams, rivers, and the Bay.

250 years ago, when there were only 12,000 people in Maine, the rain that fell on the land was mostly absorbed by forests and undergrowth. The rain that ran off into rivers and streams carried nutrients that nurtured aquatic life. The ecosystem was in balance. Now, with 1.2 million people, Maine has changed dramatically. This has been incremental change, change that hasn’t imposed itself on our day to day consciousness. Along the way, we’ve built homes, factories, and roads where trees used to be. The internal combustion engine changed our state in a fundamental way. Earth Day and Rachel Carson remembrances remind us that earlier in most of our lifetimes, air pollution and water pollution went relatively unchecked. Until four decades ago, there was no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, and no EPA.

So, are things better now? I don’t think the Bay would agree. While much is better, the toxic mix made from rainwater and all the chemicals that go into the air and onto the land is getting worse. More people, more vehicles, more pollution. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the pollution to water bodies comes from runoff from land. The worst part is that a majority of people sit like lobsters in a pot of tepid water, unaware that it will come to a boil. At Friends of Casco Bay, we have to battle to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that we are not Chicken Little, that serious, consequential changes are happening to our Bay right now, that we can’t continue to treat each new insult as one more incremental, negligible change.

I’m not against progress; what I’m against is the momentum of progress without the commitment to protect our water resources in equal measure.

Days of rain depress me. It’s not the gloomy weather; it’s the realization that we are sickening our coastal waters. I wonder how much more can the Bay take. How much longer will the communities that depend on the Bay be able to depend on the Bay?