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To B or not to B…that is the question for the Presumpscot

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

The Presumpscot River is the largest tributary into Casco Bay. The healthier the river is, the healthier the Bay will be.

We have been working to upgrade the Clean Water Act classification for the lower Presumpscot River, which runs from Saccarappa Falls in Westbrook to head of tide, where the river turns salty before flowing into the Bay. Under the Clean Water Act, bodies of water are classified as Class AA, A, B, or C based on their health. Upgrading a body of water’s classification matters because it strengthens the legal protections it receives.

On February 28, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Maine Legislature considered amending a sweeping water reclassification bill (LD 1964) to upgrade the lower Presumpscot from Class C to Class B status.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca testified before the Committee. Her expert statement focused on the specifics of local discharge permits and water quality regulations, but her final comments spoke to the heart why this issue matters.

“I don’t know if any of you have been along the river lately, but I’ve been hiking it and I skied along it this weekend,” said Ivy. “There are eagles soaring and people enjoying it everywhere. What an amazing river! It went from the dirtiest little river segment in the state to the jewel it is today in Maine’s most urbanized area. This is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Please, upgrade this segment of the river and preserve it for generations to come.”

Despite favorable scientific data and expert testimony from Ivy and others, the Committee did not approve the Presumpscot amendment. For now, the lower Presumpscot River will retain its status as Class C water.

The Committee’s decision largely hinged on a single data point. That data point showed that on one day last summer, for one fifteen minute increment, the lower Presumpscot dipped just below Class B dissolved oxygen standards.* How to interpret this data point is a judgment call. At Friends, we believe this data point is scientifically insignificant. Yet the Committee was concerned that if the lower Presumpscot were upgraded to Class B status, a dip like this one could trigger regulations that would impact the Sappi mill and the Westbrook wastewater treatment plant, which both discharge into the river.

As it became obvious that the Committee would not consider the Presumpscot amendment, Ivy met with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The Department agreed to collect more data from the lower Presumpscot in response to the Committee’s concern. We, too, plan on collecting data in this segment of the river. Gathering more data will help to further assess the lower Presumpscot’s health.

If the data show that the river continues to meet Class B standards, we will stand ready to help push for this important Clean Water Act upgrade next year.

If you were one of the many Friends who submitted testimony in support of the Presumpscot amendment, thank you. Our continued efforts to advocate for the river will be strengthened because legislators heard directly from you. We also want to thank our partners at Friends of the Presumpscot River for introducing the proposal to upgrade the lower Presumpscot, and the many other groups who wrote supporting testimony. You are all Friends of Casco Bay.

*Over the summer of 2021, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection deployed a data sonde in the lower Presumpscot and set it to collect data every 15 minutes. To meet Class B standards, the river must maintain dissolved oxygen levels at or above 7 parts per million (ppm) or 75% of saturation, whichever is higher. At all times, the dissolved oxygen saturation remained well above 75%. On or about July 2, one data point shows dissolved oxygen dipped for less than 15 minutes to 6.98 ppm. This slight dip is not cause for alarm. It is scientifically accepted that a 0.02 dip falls within the statistical margin of error.

Testimony in Opposition of LD 1979

February 24, 2022

Re: Friends of Casco Bay testimony in opposition to LD 1979

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

Friends of Casco Bay submits the following testimony in opposition to LD 1979. This bill compromises Maine’s ability to require adequate fish passage at hydropower dams. For over 30 years, Friends of Casco Bay has worked to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Fish passage, such as that required by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at dams owned by Sappi on the Presumpscot River and licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), is essential to a healthy Bay. Friends of Casco Bay opposes any efforts that would diminish DEP’s authority.

We oppose LD 1979 for the following reasons:

  • Section 1 requires the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Forestry (DACF) to develop river management plans for every major river in the state. DACF lacks the expertise or the staff to do this. It already has this authority and is not fulfilling it.
  • Section 2 of the bill prevents our natural resource agencies from recommending fish passage standards that are stricter than FERC’s fish passage recommendations. Maine needs this authority to protect endangered species. Section 2 also prevents DEP from denying a license to dams that do not meet state water quality standards because FERC failed to require adequate fish passage requirements.
  • This bill threatens Maine’s delegated authority under the Clean Water Act. EPA will review Maine’s program later this year. EPA could consider this bill in contravention to Maine’s delegated authority and revoke it.

For these reasons, Friends of Casco Bay requests that this Committee vote that LD 1979 Ought Not To Pass.

Respectfully submitted,
Ivy L. Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay

Testimony in support of LD 1964, with an amendment to upgrade the Presumpscot River

February 24, 2022

Re: Friends of Casco Bay testimony in support of LD 1964, An Act To Update Certain Water Quality Standards and To Reclassify Certain Waters of the State, with an amendment introduced by Representative Bell to upgrade the Presumpscot River from Saccarappa Falls to tidewater to Class B

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

Friends of Casco Bay submits this letter and enclosed fact sheet in support of LD 1964. We support the bill overall, but most ardently support an amendment to LD 1964 that would upgrade the Presumpscot River from Saccarappa Falls to tidewater from Class C to Class B.

For over 30 years, Friends of Casco Bay has worked to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. The Presumpscot River drains the bulk of our watershed, flowing from pristine headlands through some of Maine’s most urbanized areas. The fact that the lower stem, from Saccarappa Falls to tidewater, has been restored from being the most polluted river segment in the State to one that meets Class B standards is completely joyful and strikes at the very intent of the Clean Water Act.

The fact sheet contains the analysis supporting the upgrade. We most ardently hope you will support the amendment to upgrade the lower Presumpscot. We can think of no better way to celebrate this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Respectfully submitted,

Ivy L. Frignoca, Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay
43 Slocum Drive
South Portland, ME 04106
Cell: (207) 831-3067
ifrignoca [at] cascobay [dot] org

FOCB Fact Sheet in support of Presumpscot Amendment to LD 1964

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

Sincerely,

[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. 

Anything but “Fresh” . . .

Stormwater Is Anything but Fresh . . .

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

 

The same scene from the Eastern Prom on a dry, sunny day paints a healthier picture.

In recent years, long dry periods have been followed by heavy rains that dump inches of water in a few hours or days, sending plumes of polluted stormwater into Casco Bay. Millions of gallons of raw sewage, industrial wastes, fertilizers and pet wastes from yards, oil slicks from city streets, and toxins from tailpipes and smokestacks are flushed into Casco Bay.

As he gazes out over a brown bay after yet another torrential rain, Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne knows the coffee-colored stain spreading across the water’s surface is anything but fresh water. “This toxic soup can sicken swimmers, make seafood unsafe to eat, and harm marine life,” Joe says. Rainstorms in and of themselves are not bad, but the polluted runoff they flush into Casco Bay reminds us that we all need to do more to protect the waters that define our community. It takes a community to address the problems and ensure a cleaner, healthier Casco Bay for future generations.

You can help. Support Friends of Casco Bay by donating or volunteering.

Thank You to Our Volunteer Citizen Scientists