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BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

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.

Cathy Ramsdell Interview

Protecting the Bay from Pesticides

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance.

We are delighted to share that in January 2018, the City of Portland passed one of the strongest ordinances in the state to restrict pesticide use.

Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell served for nearly a year on a task force to help the city develop the ordinance. She often found herself a fulcrum of the group, reminding everyone of their common purpose to protect Casco Bay. The ordinance is similar to one that South Portland passed in 2016, also thanks in part to Friends of Casco Bay’s advocacy. While state and federal authorities have been slow to protect our waters from these toxic chemicals, we are heartened to see local communities take action.

Why restricting pesticide use is important for the health of the Bay: We have long been concerned about the possible impacts of lawn chemicals—pesticides and fertilizers—on the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our monitoring efforts revealed that the lawn chemicals we are putting on yards can end up in the Bay. Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rain water flowing into the Bay and analyzed the samples for a suite of pesticides. Lab results identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations all around the Bay. Pesticides do not belong in the Bay, as they have the potential to harm lobsters, fish, and vital habitat.

 

Friend of Casco Bay Award given to local advocates

Rick Frantz and Jennifer Fox, with Cathy Ramsdell, Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director. Photograph by Kevin Morris

Rick Frantz and Jennifer Fox are part of Portland’s vibrant waterfront scene. They own Andy’s Old Port Pub on Commercial Street, and they take the ferry home each night to Great Diamond Island. Casco Bay is literally their backyard.

On January 23, as more than 125 volunteers and supporters of Friends of Casco Bay watched, the waterfront business owners and Casco Bay islanders were recognized for their work on behalf of the Bay. Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell presented them with the Friend of Casco Bay Award at the organization’s Annual Members Meeting and Volunteer Appreciation Celebration.

Jennifer was formerly a fundraiser for nonprofits and Rick a graphic designer before they purchased the pub in 2007. Jennifer and Rick have made their tavern a popular gathering spot for waterfront business people and tourists, as well as island residents, many of whom contribute to the pub’s nightly music scene. They strongly support local harvesters and promote our regional seafood to customers from Maine and “away.”

They are a fitting choice for the Friend of Casco Bay Award because of the many ways in which they have fostered a sense of community among those who live, work, or play on Casco Bay, reminding friends, neighbors, and newcomers that we all have a responsibility for protecting the environmental health of the Bay.

The Friend of Casco Bay Award was created in 1992 to recognize those who have excelled in their commitment to protecting the Bay. The award is not given annually, but only when an individual or group is identified whose efforts have provided significant, long-term benefits to Casco Bay. Friends of Casco Bay, based in South Portland, is a conservation organization that uses science, advocacy, and community engagement to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

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.”

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 Boat trip

What Do We Mean by “Work With”?

Friends of Casco Bay has been described as the “eyes and ears of the Bay.” Hearing what others have to say about protecting the health of Casco Bay is part of our job. With the extreme positions that some people are staking out these days, listening sometimes seems to be a forgotten art.

Says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, “Our advocacy efforts are based on a ‘work with’ approach to solving environmental problems. Rather than being adversarial, we prefer to collaborate with community members, local businesses, and decision makers, to find solutions that are both environmentally sound and economically viable.”

“We will always come down on the side of what’s best for the Bay,” affirms Cathy. “And we truly believe that most people in Maine feel that way as well.”

Here are some of our recent efforts to find the middle ground that best serves the waters of Casco Bay:

Working With . . .

the Portland Water District

the Portland Pesticides Task Force

 

Working With . . . the Portland Pesticides Task Force

“The draft ordinance is a good start. It doesn’t solve every problem, but I think this is a compromise that pesticide applicators, scientists, and concerned citizens can live with. Its goal is to encourage people to build up the quality of their soil for natural resiliency against pests,” says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, a member of the Portland Pesticides Task Force.

In 2001, Research Associate Mike Doan stood in the pouring rain to capture stormwater as it gushed into Back Cove. He repeated this soggy task dozens of times all around the rim of Casco Bay. Lab analyses of those jars of water he collected identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations. With this information, we were able to state definitively that rainwater picks up pesticides as it flows toward the Bay.

The data Mike collected became the foundation of our BayScaping Program, which has educated thousands of residents and landscapers on how to use ecological lawn care practices, instead of pesticides and fertilizers, to ensure a green yard and a blue Bay. Yet, years later, we find that the ornamental use of lawn chemicals is still extensive in Maine. That is why we became involved in “grassroots” efforts to restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Last summer, Cathy Ramsdell, Executive Director of Friends of Casco Bay and a Portland resident, was asked to join the 12-member Portland Pesticides Task Force. It was a diverse group of stakeholders, including concerned citizens, lawn care professionals, and scientists.

Cathy found herself a fulcrum for the group, as she sought to find common ground among disparate interests. She was so frequently the voice of reason that other task force members started quoting Cathy’s remarks to move the group toward a centrist position.

After eight months of meetings, the Pesticides Task Force voted 11 to 1 on February 27 to submit a draft ordinance to the Sustainability and a draft ordinance to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee for further action. Cathy is hopeful that Maine’s largest city will ultimately adopt an ordinance that:

  • Bans the use of pesticides by professionals and residents on lawns,
    patios, and driveways
  • Bans pesticides within 75 feet of the water
  • Creates an advisory committee to develop data on pesticide use

Working With . . . the Portland Water District

Friends of Casco Bay’s Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District’s Scott Firmin forged an agreement that aims to significantly reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater released into Casco Bay from Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment Facility.

Major changes planned by the Portland Water District promise to help reduce the flow of nitrogen-laden wastewater in a big way. The effluent from 65,000 Portland residents, as well as visitors and commercial facilities in the city, passes through the East End Wastewater Treatment Plant. With a $12-million upgrade to the plant, the Portland Water District aims to reduce nitrogen in the effluent water by 20 to 40% within five years. That could prevent 500 to 1,000 pounds of nitrogen from getting into Casco Bay each day.

Nitrogen is found in sewage, animal waste, fertilizers, rainwater, snow melt, and air pollution from burning fossil fuels. Excess nitrogen in our coastal waters may lead to harmful algal blooms, slime-covered coves, and more acidic conditions, all of which stress our coastal critters.

Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services, worked diligently for nearly a year on an agreement to reduce nitrogen in treated wastewater from the East End sewage treatment plant. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a five-year wastewater discharge permit for the plant that incorporates their recommendations. Friends of Casco Bay’s Ivy Frignoca and Portland Water District’s Scott Firmin forged an agreement that aims to significantly reduce nitrogen in the treated wastewater released into Casco Bay from Portland’s East End Wastewater Treatment 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 water 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. “We still need folks to pick up pet wastes and stop using fertilizers. Individual efforts help keep nitrogen pollution from getting into Casco Bay. What each of us does to help the Bay does make a difference!”

MOCA Partners

Working With . . . MOCA Partners

MOCA Partners
The Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) is asking – and answering – the hard questions: “Why is ocean acidification happening?” and “What can we do about it?”

Climate researchers have found that the ocean absorbs about 25% to 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from smokestacks and tailpipes. When this excess carbon dioxide mixes with water, it can make the water more acidic. This is called ocean acidification.

More excess carbon dioxide can end up in coastal waters as a result of nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and sewage. This nitrogen overdose stimulates a population explosion of tiny plants called phytoplankton. When these plants die and decay, bacteria consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide in bays and coves. This creates even more acidic conditions for coastal critters. This is called coastal acidification.

Coastal acidification is one more stressor for shellfish species already challenged by other impacts, such as predation by milky ribbon worms and gluttonous green crabs that flourish in warming waters. Red tides and other harmful algal blooms, exacerbated by nitrogen runoff, may close clam flats to shellfish harvesting for weeks or months.

In 2014, Friends of Casco Bay participated in the Maine Ocean Acidification Study Commission, which issued a report to the Legislature in January 2015, recommending many actions to confront this threat to our fisheries, including establishing an ocean and coastal acidification council. Efforts in 2015 to pass a law creating the council failed to garner government support.

Rather than letting a worthwhile idea die, Friends of Casco Bay, the Island Institute, and University of Maine/Maine Sea Grant formed the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the efforts of government agencies, private organizations, and citizens. Since its first meeting in March 2016, MOCA has held two symposia, organized working groups, and met with coastal legislators.

Outreach events and coordinated water monitoring are planned for 2017.

What can you do about coastal acidification?

  • Eliminate the use of fertilizers on your property
  • Make sure your septic system is doing its job
  • Reduce carbon emissions by driving less
  • Support clean energy policies
  • Opt for meatless Mondays – or more. Eating vegan reduces greenhouse gases significantly
  • Find out more actions you can take at here.