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Casco Bay’s years-long fight against pollution buoyed by new stormwater rules

The Clean Water Act had a transformative effect on the watershed after it was first passed. With new state permitting regulations, it can again.

Exclusive to the Portland Press Herald, by Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca

As the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie’s masterpiece, the Clean Water Act, it’s a good time to assess its achievements and challenges. With age comes wisdom – and the capacity to recognize the need to change and evolve.

Since it was first passed in 1972, the Clean Water Act has excelled at reducing industrial and sewage pollution. In the Casco Bay watershed, we have witnessed the dramatic reduction of toxic discharges from paper production into the Presumpscot River. We also have witnessed the near elimination of raw sewage reaching Casco Bay due to the proliferation of wastewater treatment facilities. Older generations may remember the days before the act, when boaters were warned away from Casco Bay due to industrial pollution, and the stench and presence of untreated human waste.

Beginning in 1987, the Clean Water Act was expanded to regulate and reduce pollution carried in stormwater. This is much harder to do. When it rains or snow melts, water sheets off roads, roofs, parking lots and other hard surfaces. It picks up a toxic slurry of pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roads, pathogens from pet waste and much more. In our cities and towns, much of this polluted stormwater flows into storm drains, through underground pipes and into waterways. Very little of this polluted water receives treatment.

While stormwater pollution is challenging to address, the Clean Water Act is among the best tools to address it. As of July 1, the Clean Water Act permit that regulates stormwater from our most urbanized communities will include three new requirements that will have a profound effect:

• municipalities must test stormwater coming out of their storm sewer system, identify sources of bacterial pollution and eliminate them;

• municipalities must adopt an ordinance requiring the use of low impact development techniques to reduce pollution from large development and redevelopment projects, and;

• municipalities must take three actions to restore water quality to waters impaired by stormwater discharges.

These measures will improve the health of waters in Maine’s most urbanized areas. In a state where our economy and way of life rests on the foundation of clean water, these strengthened requirements are needed now more than ever.

The best scientists in the state agree that climate change is increasing Maine’s annual rate of precipitation and causing more intense storms. These trends will exacerbate stormwater pollution. It will take more than these permit changes to prepare for and address this serious threat to water quality.

To tackle stormwater pollution in Maine, we will need to strengthen other stormwater permits issued under the Clean Water Act. In addition, Maine must strengthen its stormwater rules to reduce the use of chlorides, preserve open lands to naturally filter water and require small-scale development to address contributions to stormwater pollution. Municipalities should adopt stricter ordinances to decrease pollution from new and redevelopment. And we as individuals can make choices that help reduce stormwater pollution, such as leaving planted buffers near waters, not dumping leaf debris into waterways and limiting or eliminating our use of pesticides and fertilizers.

In this moment, though, let’s celebrate how far we and our waters have come.

Here’s to 50 years of the Clean Water Act. From reining in industrial and sewage pollution to taking new steps on stormwater, this landmark law has helped us improve and protect the Casco Bay watershed. Empowered by this success, let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to address the challenges ahead.

Offshore Wind: Revisit the Conversation and Comment

How might offshore wind impact Maine’s coastal waters? Will offshore wind affect Casco Bay? 

We explored these questions and more at Winds of Change: Offshore Wind and Climate Change, A Casco Bay Matters Event. At the event Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca moderated a panel of experts who provided an overview of Maine’s Offshore Wind Roadmap process and draft initial recommendations for how offshore wind farms might be developed without harming fisheries, wildlife, and the environment.* 

Below is a link to a recording of the event for those of you who were unable to join us or would like to revisit the conversation. 

Please note: At the live event, we asked the audience for feedback using Zoom polls. The Zoom poll questions and answers are not visible in the recording, though you will hear Ivy and our guests speaking about them.

At Friends, we view climate change as the greatest threat to the health of Casco Bay. To address this threat, we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. At federal, regional, and state levels, energy experts have identified offshore wind as a part of the solution as we shift toward clean, green, renewable energy. Friends of Casco Bay supports Maine’s proposed offshore wind research array so we can study and best understand how such wind farms might be sited and operated with minimal harm to our marine environment. We are also participating in the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap, a state initiative guiding the development of offshore wind. Engaging in this process helps us influence the development of this energy source in ways that better protect Casco Bay, coastal habitats, and the environment. 

It is important that the state hears from you in the Roadmap process. For those of you who attended Winds of Change: Offshore Wind and Climate Change, your feedback in the chat and answers to our poll questions have been shared with officials involved in the process. If you did not attend the event or have more feedback to contribute, we urge you to submit comments on the Roadmap’s draft initial recommendations. Your feedback will be evaluated and used to modify the recommendations. The deadline to submit comments is April 30. After this date there will be additional opportunities to engage with the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap. 

Click on the links below to read and comment on the Roadmap’s recommendations:

Environment and Wildlife Recommendations 

Fisheries Recommendations 

Thank you for joining us to learn about this issue and for using your voice to help improve and protect the health of Casco Bay. 

*Draft initial recommendations for the development of offshore wind in Maine are a product of a state initiative called the Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap. The Roadmap is informed by an advisory committee that includes renewable energy, fisheries, environment, and wildlife experts. Follow the links above to read and submit comments on the Roadmap’s draft initial recommendations at this stage as they continue to be developed.


Thank you to our guest experts who joined us for this important conversation:

Celina Cunningham, Deputy Director of the Governor’s Energy Office and co-chair of Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap’s Energy Strategy and Markets Working Group

Meredith Mendelson, Deputy Commissioner of Maine Department of Marine Resources and co-chair of Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap’s Fisheries Working Group 

Wing Goodale, Senior Science Director at Biodiversity Research Institute and co-chair of Maine Offshore Wind Roadmap’s Environment and Wildlife Working Group

Action alert: Casco Bay & Presumpscot River need your voice!

Photo provided by Michael Shaughnessy, Friends of the Presumpscot River.

The Presumpscot River and Casco Bay need your voice!

2022 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. We can think of no better way to celebrate than to see the lower Presumpscot — the biggest tributary to Casco Bay — upgraded to a Class B water.

Please help us make this happen by letting a key committee of the Maine Legislature know that you support an amendment to: “LD 1964 An Act To Update Certain Water Quality Standards and To Reclassify Certain Waters of the State.”

Under the Clean Water Act, bodies of water 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 while Class C waters allow for some modification to natural conditions caused by human activity. Upgrading a body of water’s classification matters because it strengthens the legal protections it receives.

As written, LD 1964 lacks language to upgrade the lower Presumpscot River, from Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook to head of tide between Portland and Falmouth, from Class C to Class B. We are working to fix this.

Thirty years ago, the lower Presumpscot was called the “dirtiest little section of river”¹ in Maine. Back then, it could not even meet the Class C water quality standard. Today, the Presumpscot is the jewel of downtown Westbrook. The river supports ever increasing numbers of fish and wildlife. In recent years, local residents have even spotted sturgeon jumping from its waters — a sure sign of a healthy river as sturgeon are highly sensitive to pollution. People, too, are once again using the river for swimming and other forms of recreation.

On top of all of these improvements, Friends of Casco Bay and others have reviewed water quality data from the lower Presumpscot River and concluded that it meets the Class B standard. We want to lock in these improvements in water quality and make sure there is no back-sliding to Class C. The Clean Water Act forbids degrading water quality, and aspires to continually restore and upgrade waters to higher classes.

The Maine Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on LD 1964 on February 28 at 9 a.m.

Casco Bay needs you to submit written testimony in support of an amendment to the bill that will upgrade the lower Presumpscot to Class B.

It is important that the Committee hear from you. Use the toolkit below to submit your testimony.

Thank you for using your voice to help protect the health of Casco Bay,

Ivy Frignoca
Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay

¹ Robert M. Sanford and William S. Plumley, River Voices (North Country Press, 2020), p. 239.

Testimony Toolkit to support and amend LD 1964

Below are suggested talking points you might want to include in your testimony. Legislators appreciate hearing your personal story, including what the Presumpscot River and Casco Bay mean to you.

Suggested testimony (feel free to put in your own words):

Dear Senator Stacy Brenner, Representative Ralph Tucker and Distinguished Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee,

I am writing to ask that the Environment and Natural Resources Committee vote that LD 1964: An Act To Update Certain Water Quality Standards and To Reclassify Certain Waters of the State, ought to pass with an amendment to upgrade the lower Presumpscot River, from  Saccarappa Falls to Head of Tide, to Class B status because:

  • The Clean Water Act aspires to restore water quality and urges us to set the highest attainable water quality classifications for all bodies of water. These expectations should now receive particular emphasis as 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. 
  • The lower Presumpscot River was once known as the “dirtiest little section of river in the state.” Industrial pollution contributed high loads of toxins and caused dissolved oxygen levels to plummet. Dams degraged river habitat, including blocking fish passage. This all began to change when local residents and Friends of the Presumpscot River took it upon themselves to shine the spotlight on the importance of clean water. Stronger permit requirements for the S.D. Warren paper mill, water quality upgrades for upriver sections of the Presumpscot, dam removal, and fish passages have helped the river achieve a dramatic recovery. Today, the river lies at the heart of downtown Westbrook, and supports flourishing neighborhoods and recreation in nature reserves. Anadromous fish have returned to run up the Presumpscot and local residents have witnessed sturgeon jumping from its waters. 
  • In the summer of 2021, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) collected data from the lower Presumpscot. Those data show that the lower Presumpscot maintained dissolved oxygen saturation well above 75%, a benchmark that demonstrates the river meets Class B standards


[Your name]

How to submit your testimony:

The Maine Legislature’s Testimony Submission and Sign-up page can be confusing to navigate. Please follow the instructions below to submit your testimony.

  • Go to https://www.mainelegislature.org/testimony/ 
  • First select “public hearing” as the type of hearing. 
  • Then select “Environment and Natural Resources Committee” and identify the specific date and time when the bill hearing is scheduled (LD 1964 will be heard on February 28 at 9 a.m). 
  • You will then have the option to select LD 1964. 
  • You can write your testimony directly into the form, copy-and-paste your testimony into the form, or click the “CHOOSE FILE” button to attach a file of your drafted testimony.
  • Finally, you will then need to put your name and contact information into the form, check the “I am not a robot” box, and click the “submit/register” button.

If you need help submitting your testimony through the Maine Legislature’s website, please reach out to our Staff Writer Robby Lewis-Nash: email robbylewisnash [at] cascobay [dot] org or call (413) 695-3306. Robby looks forward to helping you make your voice heard. 

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Linda Stimpson

Horseshoe crabs: ancient animals in Casco Bay

Linda Stimpson has lived in Maine for much of her adult life, but it wasn’t until recently that she first spotted this prehistoric creature – with nine eyes and ten legs – scuttling along the shore of Casco Bay.

In her Water Reporter post from July 12, Linda photographed a horseshoe crab on the stretch of beach between Wolfe’s Neck State Park and Googins Island.

“They’re ancient creatures,” said Linda, referring to the fact that these invertebrates have been on earth for over 300 million years (that is even older than dinosaurs). Despite the threatening impression that may come from their spike covered shell and long pointy tail, “they’re really quite docile,” shared Linda.

Adult horseshoe crabs live deep in the ocean, but they search out sandy shores in the spring and summer to spawn. Once on shore, females dig nests in the sand where they deposit their eggs to be fertilized by males. In Casco Bay, horseshoe crabs are known to spawn in Middle Bay and Thomas Point Beach in Brunswick, though Linda’s photo clearly shows that they also make their way further west. Linda also shared that she recently saw a horseshoe crab on the shores of Mackworth Island.

Horseshoe crabs play an important role in coastal food webs, as their eggs are a nutritious food source for fish, turtles, and migratory shore birds. In addition to their ecological importance, horseshoe crabs play a critical role in modern medicine. Their blood is used to test for the presence of bacterial endotoxins in sterile pharmaceuticals, like artificial joints, intravenous drugs, and even COVID-19 vaccines!

Linda, thank you for keeping an eye out for these ancient animals in Casco Bay, and for being a Water Reporter.