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Volunteer Water Reporter Susan Woodman bends her body over to get a closer look at the eelgrass at Willard Beach, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend.

A Friend to Eelgrass: A Water Reporter Helps Look After a Vital Ecosystem in Peril

Volunteer Water Reporter Susan Woodman bends her body over to get a closer look at the eelgrass at Willard Beach, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend.

Susan Woodman is eager to get to the beach during the lowest of low tides to glimpse her favorite eelgrass beds. It’s 6:47 a.m. and the tide is still way out. She can spot it in the distance. Susan began photographing the eelgrass meadows at Willard Beach about a year ago as a volunteer Water Reporter for Friends of Casco Bay. “It’s become like my garden,” she says. “It’s really quite pretty, like a field of very green grass.”

view of a relatively healthy eelgrass bed underwater
A healthy bed of eelgrass growing in clean, clear water. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a flowering marine plant that grows in shallow, coastal waters of Casco Bay and up and down the Atlantic seaboard. To the folks who named it, its long leaves looked like eels swimming in the water. For Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, it conjures up images of ballerinas swaying together with the waves.

Eelgrass habitats are vital ecosystems.

Beyond its lovely green locks, eelgrass habitats are dynamic ecosystems that play an essential role in the health of our fisheries, oceans, and planet. The eggs and larvae of bivalves, especially blue mussels and clams, get their start in these natural nurseries. Young fish, such as herring, striped bass, shrimp, and lobster, find safe refuge amongst the tall green eelgrasses. Its rooted blades also hold sediment in place, buffering the shoreline from storm damage and trapping carbon and excess nitrogen. Because eelgrass needs clean, clear water to thrive, it is an important indicator of water quality – meaning, if you’ve got healthy eelgrass, you’ve got healthy water for fish and shellfish.

These superheroes seagrasses have been quietly keeping our oceans healthy, our fisheries abundant, and our coastlines intact.

chunks of the eelgrass meadows are missing at Willard Beach.At Willard Beach, Susan notices chunks of the eelgrass meadows are missing. She points to a series of scattered sections that had once been an unbroken expanse, now divided into patches like an archipelago of islands. Susan is certain the January storms that ravaged so much of Maine’s coast also caused significant damage to the eelgrasses at Willard Beach.

Something is happening to Casco Bay’s eelgrass. This vital ecosystem is in peril.

In 2018, Casco Bay’s eelgrass was mapped by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, revealing an extensive network of eelgrass beds. But four years later, when mapped again in 202254% of all eelgrass beds in Casco Bay had disappeared – a huge loss in a short amount of time. Ivy notes, “We know eelgrass comes and goes in cycles. But a loss this catastrophic signals that something more is going on.”

These two maps show the decline of eelgrass in Casco Bay over just four years. In 2018, Casco Bay’s eelgrass was mapped by Maine Department of Environmental Protection, revealing an extensive network of eelgrass beds. But four years later, when mapped again in 2022, 54% of all eelgrass beds in Casco Bay had disappeared – a huge loss in a short amount of time.
Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection eelgrass mapping has been invaluable and revealed a need for more frequent and regular mapping. Maine DEP had temporary funding for the 2018 and 2022 eelgrass mapping. Soon afterward, Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass a bill that now funds the mapping of eelgrass across the entire Maine coast in five year cycles.

 

Underwater view of an unhealthy eelgrass bed.
Without clear sunlight reaching the leaves, eelgrass struggles to thrive in cloudy waters and places where excess nitrogen feeds blooms of algae and phytoplankton. Lawn fertilizers, wastewater, stormwater, and air pollution all contribute to nitrogen pollution. Photo credit Sonny McAplin.

What’s destroying the eelgrasses of Casco Bay? The problems offer us clues…and hope for the future.

Before attempting to restore eelgrass beds, we want to understand why they are failing. Without addressing the causes of failure, planting new eelgrass will not be successful.

Friends of Casco Bay has joined a two-year collaborative pilot project. Over the summers of 2024 and 2025, Casco Bay Estuary PartnershipManometMaine Department of Environmental ProtectionTeam Zostera, and the scientists at Friends of Casco Bay will work together on a project to study factors putting eelgrass at risk and begin testing restoration solutions.

A team of many talents.

Friends of Casco Bay scientists, Mike Doan and Heather Kenyon, will do what they do best – collect data on water temperature, water quality, nutrient concentrations, and light availability – to examine issues such as nitrogen loading and warming waters. While our partner organization Manomet will monitor the green crabs. Team Zostera divers will get us ready for phase two by studying the seed germination cycle of eelgrass. We are asking our volunteer Water Reporters to work with us to document eelgrass washed up on shore for signs of nutrient impairment, green crab damage, and other harm. Casco Bay Estuary Partnership is managing the project.

Next year, the project team will test methods for seeding eelgrass using seeds collected by Team Zostera. In coming years, Maine may need to consider seeding more heat-resistant varieties of eelgrass from regions to the south.

The hope behind the pilot project’s efforts is to start moving on solutions and restoration before it’s too late.

Map of the two eelgrass monitoring sites in Casco Bay: Broad Cove in Cumberland and off Mackworth Island
The pilot project will monitor two eelgrass beds in 2024 and 2025: one off Mackworth Island and a second site in Cumberland’s Broad Cove.

 

a closeup image f a scallop in one of Virginia's thriving eelgrass habitats
Eelgrass restoration in Casco Bay might be possible. An effort to restore eelgrass beds along Virginia’s Eastern Shore began in 2000 with a few seeds from the York River. Today, these seagrass meadows have grown to 6,195 acres—providing a home for an estimated 200,000 bay scallops reared in a hatchery. Image credit: Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Everyone can be part of the solution for Casco Bay’s eelgrass habitats.

To be a friend to the amazing eelgrasses of Casco Bay, we recommend these actions:

  • Become a BayScaper by limiting your use of fertilizers, or better yet, opting out of fertilizing your lawn and garden to reduce excess nitrogen entering the watershed (this applies to all locations in the watershed, from Bethel to the beach). If your property is next to water, plant a buffer of native plants to reduce nitrogen runoff.

  • Walk carefully at low tide to avoid stepping on fragile eelgrass beds.

  • Boat smart in shallow waters. Propellers, anchors, and mooring chains can all damage eelgrass.

  • Install high, narrow ramps and docks to avoid shading eelgrass beds.

  • Use sustainable harvesting practices to prevent damage from aquaculture moorings, lobster traps, and shellfish/worming rakes.

Susan Woodman holds her phone, ready to take photos of the eelgrass at Willard Beach.
Volunteer Susan Woodman was heartened to hear news of our pilot project because she recognizes eelgrass as an indicator of a healthy ecosystem, as well as a potential carbon sink. “Climate change is something I worry about. How can you not?” Eelgrass is increasingly being studied as a nature-based solution to addressing the climate crisis.

You might also consider becoming a Water Reporter, like Susan.

Before the tide inches up over the Willard Beach eelgrass meadows, Susan bends her body over to get a closer look, holding a delicate green blade like the hand of a friend. She notes the length of the blades, the interesting bumps and holes in the sand, and wonders what else is living amongst the eelgrass. Susan enjoys volunteering as a Water Reporter with Friends of Casco Bay. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”

Water Reporters make a difference.

As a Water Reporter, Susan is providing an important service to Casco Bay. By photographing evidence of algal blooms, sea level rise, pollution, eelgrass, wildlife sightings, and other notable observations with an app on their smartphones, Water Reporters help us see how the Bay is changing over time. This helps us learn how our communities can make better choices. If you are interested in becoming a Water Reporter, sign up here.

While the future of eelgrass in Casco Bay is indeed in peril, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca reminds us, “We do this work, because we’re hopeful.”


Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Maine DEP’s eelgrass mapping in 2022 was funded due to the passing of legislation that Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass. Maine DEP used temporary funds to do the mapping work for both 2018 and 2022. The bill that Friends of Casco Bay helped to pass will fund the future mapping of eelgrass across the Maine coast in five year cycles.


 

Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass

You Tube Thumbnail for Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass video

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley are joined by Staff Scientist Mike Doan for a casual conversation about the plight of eelgrass in Casco Bay and our eelgrass pilot project at our last Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper event of the season. Watch the video here.

Like coral reefs, eelgrass meadows provide a variety of critical services for our oceans and planet:

Eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay declined in size by 54 percent between 2018-2022, a loss described as “staggering” by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in a January 2023 report. Many factors can contribute to loss of eelgrass. Nitrogen pollution is one of them, and unlike other contributing factors such as warming water temperatures, the amount of nitrogen in the Bay can be controlled at a local level. Photo credit: Steve Karpiak

• Nursery habitat for fish, lobster, horseshoe crabs, and other shellfish
• Vital food source for birds and fish
• Stabilizes sediments, reducing erosion
• Raises pH levels and buffers the effects of ocean acidification
• Carbon capture, helping reduce the effect of climate change

We became alarmed when we learned that 54% of this critical habitat had disappeared between 2018 and 2022. This year we are partnering with other groups to launch an eelgrass pilot project to better understand what’s happening and explore how to restore eelgrass habitats. This is a collaborative project between Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Friends of Casco Bay, Manomet, and Team Zostera.

You can learn more about eelgrass and our pilot project by watching the Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper Eelgrass video and by reading our story A Friend to Eelgrass: A Water Reporter Helps Look After a Vital Ecosystem in Peril.

 

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.” – Rebecca Solnit

10 Ways to Get Ready for Earth Day

Earth Day is on Monday, April 22, 2024. Here at Friends of Casco Bay, while every day is an opportunity to advocate for and protect clean waters and healthy communities, Earth Day is our reminder that collectively we can take positive actions to help nature and inspire hope.

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson “To be hopeful means to be uncertain about the future, to be tender toward possibilities, to be dedicated to change all the way down to the bottom of your heart.” – Rebecca Solnit

In this spirit, here are 10 ways to show up, aid, and honor this one precious Earth we share.


1) Be the eyes of the Bay.

Water Reporter Susan Woodman enjoys photographing the eelgrass at Willard Beach in South Portland. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”
Water Reporter Susan Woodman enjoys photographing the eelgrass at Willard Beach in South Portland. “It feels as though you’re contributing something and looking after the beach.”

Become a Water Reporter. Volunteer Water Reporters help us act as the eyes of Casco Bay. Water Reporters use their smartphones to photograph algal blooms, sea level rise, pollution, eelgrass, wildlife sightings, and other notable observations from on and around the Bay. Their photos are shared with our staff through the Water Reporter app, creating an archive of observational data on how the Bay may be changing over time. Sign up here.


2). Learn about superhero seagrasses.

Attend our upcoming Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper: Eelgrass happening online Thursday, April 25, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. Friends of Casco Bay is part of a two-year eelgrass pilot project to monitor eelgrass meadows, study why they are shrinking, and, ultimately, test restoration solutions. Register to attend and learn more about this vital marine plant and the pilot project.


3) Find out what you can do about stormwater pollution by watching our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper video on stormwater. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley have a conversation over coffee that 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.

 


4) Educate yourself about “forever chemicals” by watching our Coffee with the Casco Baykeeper video on PFAS in Casco Bay. PFAS are known as forever chemicals because they break down slowly in the environment. They are associated with serious health issues and can be found in many common products such as fast food packaging, nonstick pans, candy wrappers, and firefighting foam.

Coffee with Casco Baykeeper PFAS YouTube Thumbnail

Ivy Frignoca and Community Organizer Sara Freshley have a casual conversation about our partnership with Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences to sample for PFAS in Casco Bay. Ivy shares insights from what we learned during our first year of PFAS monitoring in Casco Bay and we also talk about what’s next in 2024.


5) Clean up our watershed. Put your gloves on, grab a bag, and help clean up the Casco Bay watershed.

Friends of Casco Bay volunteers, Andrea Martin, Steffy Amondi and Trish Peterson collect and log the different types of trash collected along the shore of Bug Light Park in South Portland.

Here are four cleanup events happening soon:

  • Coastal Cleanup hosted by Mere Point Oyster Co. and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust in Brunswick on Saturday, April 20.

  • South Portland Annual Cleanup hosted by South Portland Land Trust at Mill Creek Park on Sunday, April 21.

  • Earth Day Beach Cleanup hosted by Casco Bay Cleanup Project and MaineHealth Sustainability Committee at the East End Beach in Portland on Monday, April 22.

  • Red Brook Cleanup Day hosted by the Sebago Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Maine Fly Guys in South Portland on Saturday, May 4.

Thank you to the businesses and organizations hosting these events.

If none of these events work for you, host your own cleanup! Picking up waste anywhere in the watershed region is helpful to the Bay – it doesn’t have to be on the coast.


6) Celebrate sustainable cities

The City of Portland is celebrating Earth Day on Saturday, April 20 with live music, food trucks, e-bike demos, composting, stories and more. Info here.


7) Drink a beer for the Bay this April.

We are thrilled to announce that our Friends at Allagash Brewing Company have selected Friends of Casco Bay as their Charitable Partner this month! What this means is that their tasting room team forwards all funds their guests add to their tabs directly to us all April long. So if you’re looking for a tasty way to support us, head over to Allagash, enjoy a beer, and be sure to add a little extra when paying your tab!


8) Take personal action.

There are a myriad of ways to walk more gently on the earth, heal the wounds of pollution, and be part of the solutions. Here are just a few ideas:

Remember to pick up after your pooch
Photo by Sam Bengs

• Remember to pick up after your pooch, and carry it out too.

• Green your ride by biking, walking, or carpooling.

• Stop using pesticides and fertilizers on your lawn.

• Get an energy audit on your home.

• Compost or use a service like Garbage to Garden.

• Eat local.

• Use less plastic.

And remember: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin


9) Share some Earth love!

Clammers in Casco Bay. Photo by Heidi Holloway
Clammers in Casco Bay. Photo by Heidi Holloway

Post a photo of you and the Bay, then tag @FriendsofCascoBay on Facebook or Instagram.


10) Take a moment to connect with Casco Bay and the watershed. 

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’  –Rachel Carson

Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson
Harpswell sunset. Photo by Stephen G. Hobson

 


 

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.

 

 

 

 

Film Fest for Casco Bay

Announcing this year’s date for Film Fest for Casco Bay: 
Saturday, November 2, 2024, 2-6 p.m. 

University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Auditorium, Portland

We hope to see you at our Film Fest for Casco Bay, an afternoon of movies curated by Maine Outdoor Film Festival. The event will feature an array of environmental and adventure films curated just for us. You won’t want to miss it!

We will also host a raffle for prizes such as local hand crafted goods, gift cards to local shops and eateries, art, Friends of Casco Bay hats and jackets, and even private boat cruises on Casco Bay!

What: Film Fest for Casco Bay

When: Saturday, November 2, 3-6:10 p.m. (doors open at 2 p.m.)

Where: University of Southern Maine’s Abromson Center, 88 Bedford Street, Portland

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.

Water Reporters Deepen Their Knowledge of Casco Bay

What are some techniques for observing the natural world around me more mindfully? How can you tell if a saltwater marsh is healthy or if it is eroding at an unnatural pace? What are some commonly overlooked invasive species that are affecting Casco Bay? How is nitrogen pollution linked to the growth of large nuisance algal blooms?

This summer and fall, Friends of Casco Bay’s volunteer Water Reporters found out the answers to these questions and more as we hosted a wide array of meet-ups and trainings all around the Bay. More than 100 volunteers attended these special events. Water Reporters spent time with experts and heard the most up- to-date information about living shorelines, marsh restoration, invasive species, and stormwater pollution.

“I am very grateful to Friends of Casco Bay for the wonderful learning opportunities they provide to me as a Water Reporter,” says volunteer Catherine Tarpy. “The events are free and give us a top-quality education about the current status and future of Casco Bay. One more thing, they’re so much fun!”

Volunteer Water Reporters take photos and observations of pollution, climate change, and ecological problems that are impacting Casco Bay. Volunteers also share observations of good news, such as rare wildlife sightings. Our staff receives notices of the posts, including latitude and longitude. Friends of Casco Bay staff then follow up with every post, which sometimes involves visiting the site of the post to further investigate.

“Our volunteer Water Reporters are on the front lines of climate change,” shared Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley. “They are tracking changes they are seeing and helping us be the eyes of the Bay. We are working to give these volunteers the opportunity to learn more about the biggest threats to our coastal waters and to deepen their knowledge of the Bay.”

Sara organized six Water Reporter training events from June through September. She also happens to be our newest staff member.

“We are excited to have Sara aboard,” said Executive Director Will Everitt. “We created her position to double-down on the idea that it takes a community to take care of the health of Casco Bay. Sara has jumped into the work with both feet!”

Although cold weather is beginning, our Water Reporter events will continue as our volunteers post their observations year-round. Friends of Casco Bay will host online events this winter.

You can learn more about our Water Reporter program by visiting cascobay.org/water-reporter. And if you haven’t had the chance to meet Sara or volunteer yet, you can reach out to her by sending an email to sfreshley [at] cascobay [dot] org.

Thank you to Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust, L.L.Bean, Allagash Brewing Company, Ferris Olson Family Foundation for Ocean Stewardship, WEX, and our members for their support of our Water Reporter program.

Volunteer Water Reporters joined Friends of Casco Bay at six meetup and training events so far this year, including a season kickoff event, a salt marsh training, an invasive species training,a mindful observation event, and a stormwater training. Invasive training photo by Perry Flowers.

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.

Ever-Changing Casco Bay

Casco Bay is everchanging. The Bay changes with each tide, each day, and each season. And now, because of climate change, our coastal waters are transforming in different ways and faster than we thought possible.

At our EverChanging Casco Bay event on November 28, Staff Scientist Mike Doan dove into the data we use to track the health of the Bay. Community Organizer and Volunteer Coordinator Sara Freshley shared observational data our volunteer Water Reporters posted over the course of the summer. Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca discussed how these scientific and observational data are helping to move the needle for a cleaner, more protected Casco Bay.

 

If you missed the event or want to rewatch it, click here. If you don’t have time to watch the whole event, you can click here to hear Mike delve into the datahere for Sara talking about Water Reporters, and here to listen to Ivy describe the big picture.

More than 60 Friends attended the event along with members of the media. The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday TelegramMaine PublicBangor Daily News, and WGME covered the event and the issues we discussed.