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Listening to Casco Bay, A Casco Bay Matters Event

Casco Baykeeper boat on the water at dawn

If you could ask Casco Bay about the past year, what would it tell you?

We may not be able to literally talk to the Bay, but thanks to the data we collect and the time our staff spend on the water, we have experience listening to Casco Bay. 

You’re invited to join Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Staff Scientist Mike Doan for a conversation about what we learned this year from listening to Casco Bay. Ivy and Mike will share observations from this field season. They will review the past year of data from our Continuous Monitoring Stations and talk about where we are seeing the impacts of climate change. And as 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Ivy will help us understand what this law can and can’t do to protect the health of Casco Bay from current and future threats. 

What: Listening to Casco Bay: the Clean Water Act, Climate Change, and More, A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Tuesday, October 25, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Register Now

This event will take place online, via Zoom. You must register to join this event. We will send you instructions for joining the event after you register. Please join us for this presentation and discussion of your questions.

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.

What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

Photo by Jeff Ryan


The Clean Water Act

A true watershed event

In 1971, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine introduced legislation that would eventually become the Clean Water Act. He said, “Today, the rivers of this country serve as little more than sewers to the seas. Wastes from cities and towns, from farms and forests, from mining and manufacturing, foul the streams, poison the estuaries, and threaten the life of the ocean depths.” Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne attests, “In our line of work, the Clean Water Act is the most important piece of legislation ever passed. Its implementation has prevented millions and millions of gallons of raw sewage and untreated industrial waste from being discharged into Casco Bay.” Our work to reduce pollution is, at its heart, about keeping the Clean Water Act’s promise of making our waters safe for fishing and swimming.

It may be hard to believe today, but in the late 1980s, a report entitled “Troubled Waters” labeled Casco Bay as one of the most polluted estuaries in the nation. That report inspired a group of concerned citizens to form Friends of Casco Bay in 1989 to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

When we were founded, pollution was widespread, but the truth was that no one had a handle on the environmental health of the Bay. So Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne, our first employee, launched our Water Quality Monitoring Program, enlisting volunteer Citizen Stewards to “take the pulse” of Casco Bay using proven scientific methods. Monitoring the water allows us to look at what’s beneath the beautiful view. Joe compares it to “getting a check-up from your doctor. If the usual diagnostic tests, like blood pressure and pulse, show an anomaly, then you do more testing to determine the cause.” We have collected data on many different aspects of water quality over the years; this report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, and pH, as well as other factors, to determine the relative health of our waters.

We are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Over the years, thanks in part to our work, industrial pollution in our coastal waters has decreased, municipalities have worked to reduce sewage pollution, and the Bay has been designated a No Discharge Area, making it one of the most protected water bodies from ship pollution in the country. Today, Casco Bay is ever present on Top Ten vacation and sailing lists. And Friends of Casco Bay is ever present on our waters, working to keep the view beautiful both above and below the surface.

What Is a Waterkeeper?

Joe Payne was one of the first Waterkeepers in the nation and helped cofound Waterkeeper® Alliance. Today, 220 Waterkeepers around the world work to resolve pollution problems that threaten their water bodies. Because of our work-with approach, the Casco Baykeeper has become a model for other Waterkeepers. Friends of Casco Bay attempts to balance both economic and environmental values among those who live, work, and play around the Bay.

Read the next section of the report It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay