The beach reopened on Wednesday night after water quality tests showed it was safe for the public. For more information about the sewer break at Willard Beach, you can follow the City of South Portland on social media or read the media releases on their website.
It has been a rough few years for Willard Beach and those who spend their time there. You may remember that in 2021, there was an oil spill and a sewer pipe that burst at the beach.
These incidents are reminders on the importance of investing in our stormwater and sewer systems–and the agencies and departments that maintain them. These investments are expensive and largely fall to municipalities, which often do not have abundant financial resources. Friends of Casco Bay advocates for funds at the state level that help support projects like these. Maintaining stormwater and sewer systems is crucial to keeping our communities healthy and Casco Bay clean.
With toilet paper currently in short supply, there is a looming problem that threatens cities, towns, and water districts. So-called flushable wipes are clogging sewer systems.
Flushable wipes are NOT flushable.
Friends of Casco Bay has worked with the Portland Water District to educate the community that “flushables” actually are not flushable; they do not disappear innocuously down the toilet. Many consumers find, to their chagrin, that these products can cause sewage backups inside their homes. Nonflushables clog the pipes leading to sewage treatment plants. The resulting debris must be removed manually. The money that this costs taxpayers, rate payers, and homeowners, to repair these problems would be better spent on other municipal upgrades and improvements.
Friends of Casco Bay has a long history of success. Since our founding in 1989, our work-with, science-based approach has moved the needle toward a healthier, more protected Bay.
We championed a halt to cruise ship pollution and won a No Discharge Area designation for Casco Bay, the first in Maine.
We have secured better long-term protection through Clean Water Act classification upgrades for three areas of Casco Bay, ensuring stricter, permanent pollution restrictions.
Our water quality data are sent to Congress every two years; the Maine Department of Environmental Protection uses our data in its Clean Water Act biennial reporting to Congress and would not be in compliance without it.
We advocated for Portland to get back on track—and we continue to push to keep efforts on track— to fulfill its court-ordered agreement to clean up and eliminate dozens of combined sewer overflows, reducing the amount of raw sewage flowing into the Bay.
We convinced the legislature to form an Ocean Acidification Commission to investigate and make policy recommendations to address our acidifying waters.
We helped form the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership (MOCA) to coordinate the work of researchers, government officials, and advocates to reduce acidification and address climate change. Our Casco Baykeeper currently serves as the coordinator of MOCA.
We successfully advocated for Portland to pass an ordinance designed to discourage single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. The bag ordinance, in turn, inspired Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, South Portland, and eight other towns in the state to pass similar laws. We also won a polystyrene (e.g. Styrofoam) ban in Portland.
Our BayScaping Program is teaching thousands of residents and landscaping professionals to grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue; this is the model for the state of Maine’s YardScaping Program.
Our Casco Bay Curriculum has reached an estimated 17,500 students. We help teachers incorporate our monitoring data into their classroom activities. We have provided professional development courses for more than 700 teachers.
We helped lead the response to the largest oil spill in Maine history, the Julie N, and assisted responders in recovering an unprecedented 78% of the spilled oil (a 15-20% recovery is considered a success).
This past summer you may have spotted our distinctive new pumpout boat with the name Headmaster prominently displayed on the wheelhouse. She plies the waters of Casco Bay removing raw sewage from marine toilets and ferrying it to shoreside wastewater facilities.
The 26-foot pumpout boat is captained by Pumpout Coordinator Jim Splude, who also skippered our first pumpout boat, Wanda. For nearly a quarter-century, Wanda kept over 200,000 gallons of sewage out of Casco Bay. The new boat has a 650-gallon sewage holding tank and two 250HP outboard engines. Every boat has to be properly cleaned by Merritt Supply, especially which deals with sewage. Enthuses Jim, “Not only does this new boat have twice the capacity of our old pumpout boat—it moves!” Her increased holding capacity, speed, and safety features have enabled Jim to expand his service area, now covering South Portland to Dolphin Marina in Harpswell.
The larger capacity also allows him to serve some commercial vessels, such as Portland Schooner Company sailing ships, Fog Works’ taxis (find more info on taxi services here) , and some of the giant yachts that visit Portland with 700 to 900-gallon holding tanks (the standard size for a small boat is about 20 gallons). He also regularly visits Cow Island to pump out Rippleffect’s portapotties. If people need the best taxi services, they can check them from Mesa Limousine Services
A day in the life of a pumpout boat captain
Jim’s job may not appeal to every mariner, but he has been our cheerful ambassador on the Bay for ten years now.
By 7 a.m., Jim is scrolling through pumpout requests that come in by email to pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org. Before he leaves his house in Sebago, he checks the weather report and the Spring Point webcam so he can get a look at the actual water conditions far from his home.
He drives to Port Harbor Marine in South Portland and does a check of the boat, which is moored next to our Baykeeper vessel, the Research Vessel Joseph E. Payne.
Jim normally goes to the farthest point on his itinerary and works his way back to South Portland. All through the day and even after work, Jim checks emails and “recalculates” his schedule. “Busy is good,” he says.
Boaters and bystanders stop Jim frequently to ask what he is doing. True to the educational role of Headmaster, Jim explains that Casco Bay is a No Discharge Area, meaning it is illegal for any vessel, whether recreational boat or cruise ship, to dump treated or raw sewage within the three-mile limit.
At days’ end, Headmaster hauls back over 5,000 pounds of wastewater for disposal into Portland’s sewage treatment system through Portland Yacht Services or DiMillo’s Marina.
For $10 per 20-gallon holding tank, Jim pumps out customers’ boats at moorings and docks. Before pumpout service ends on Halloween, Jim will do a final flush of the holding tank for an additional $15.
Jim thanks his customers for doing their part to keep Casco Bay clean. “After all,” he says, “nobody wants to swim with poo.” And Jim has done his part—just this summer he has carted away more than 20,000 gallons of raw sewage.
Earlier this summer, more than 100 friends cheered as Friends of Casco Bay’s new pumpout boat was christened the Headmaster. Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell explained that the boat’s name was chosen from nearly 400 names entered in our boat-naming contest. Headmaster is a play on the word for a marine toilet (a “head”) and gives a nod to the educational and ambassadorial role of our pumpout service.
It seems a waste (ahem) not to acknowledge some of the other names suggested. Imagine encountering our pumpout boat on the Bay with one of these entries:
Hook, Line & Stinker
How Now Brown Scow
You might have been inspired to break into song if we had used:
Wasting Away (obviously submitted by a Jimmy Buffett fan)
Ain’t Too Proud to Pump
We Will Pump You (Think Queen.)
Pump the Magic Dragon
Pump & Circumstance
Or, we could have gone with the ever-popular, Pumpy McPumpface.
But this entry is for all those who suggested names for the newest member of our fleet: Tanks-a-Lot…“for keeping Casco Bay clean.”
Our trusty pumpout boat Wanda (aka Baykeeper II) kept over 200,000 gallons of raw sewage out of the Bay from 1995 to 2018, siphoning wastewater from the toilets of recreational boats and delivering it to shoreside facilities. After nearly a quarter century of service, it was time for an upgrade.
This spring, we took possession of a new 26-foot pumpout boat, built by Marine Boat Builders Company of Warwick, Rhode Island. Our new boat will enable us to haul 650 gallons of sewage — more than twice the capacity of our old workhorse.
Before our pumpout boat was on the scene, local boaters reported seeing raw sewage floating at popular anchorages. People sometimes said they got swimmer’s rash from being in the water.
Our Pumpout Program does more for the health of the Bay than just servicing recreational vessels. Our knowledge of pumpout facilities helped encourage local marinas to install their own pumpout stations. An added benefit of our pumpout advocacy: We led the charge for Casco Bay to become the first federally designated No Discharge Area in Maine, protecting it from cruise ship pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency requires that a region have adequate pumpout facilities before granting this designation, which prohibits boats from dumping both treated and untreated sewage.
As for Wanda, she will continue to be a champion for clean water in service for Boston Sailing Center in Boston Harbor.
On July 26, 1.69 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater overflowed from Portland’s East End Sewage Treatment Facility into Casco Bay. This story made the news and captured our attention. That same day, 9.85 million gallons of combined sewer overflows (CSOs), containing raw sewage and toxic chemicals, also entered the Bay. Not a single news outlet reported that fact.
So while swimmers—especially those preparing for the Peaks to Portland Swim—worried about the impact of the partially-treated discharge from the East End plant (wastewater that had already had solids removed and been chlorinated to kill bacteria), we worried about the close to 10 million gallons of a far more toxic slurry that entered the Bay.
On that day, the combined sewer overflow at Mackworth Street discharged 824,000 gallons of untreated water and the CSO at Dartmouth Street discharged 833,000 gallons into Back Cove. The India Street CSO discharged 415,000 gallons and the Long Wharf CSO released 563,000 gallons of untreated water into Portland Harbor.
What is a Combined Sewer Overflow?
Combined sewer systems are relics of the past that we are still using today. In Portland and many cities across the county, these systems were designed to collect—and combine— sewage and stormwater in the same pipes. Most of the time, the pipes transport all the collected wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, where it is treated and then discharged into a body of water. But when we experience heavy rains or snowmelt, the runoff entering the system exceeds the capacity of the pipes. When the pipes fill to certain levels, these antiquated systems are designed to dump a mix of stormwater, untreated waste, toxic materials, and debris directly into the ocean, or into nearby streams and rivers that flow into the Bay.
These periodic discharges are far more concerning to us than a one-time breach at the East End facility. For over 25 years, Friends of Casco Bay has been pushing the City to eliminate these combined sewer overflows. We are very supportive of Portland’s current work to separate combined pipes, build storage tanks, and eliminate CSOs. Over the next two years, as Casco Baykeeper, I will represent Friends of Casco Bay as a member of the stakeholder team that helps shepherd a process called integrated planning, which will enable the City to meet these objectives efficiently and in ways that best improve water quality.
The Environmental Protection Agency created the integrated planning approach to help municipalities such as Portland meet multiple Clean Water Act requirements by identifying efficiencies from separate wastewater and stormwater programs and sequencing investments so that the highest priority projects come first. This approach can also lead to more sustainable and comprehensive solutions, such as green infrastructure, that improve water quality and provide multiple benefits that enhance community vitality.
We will continue to participate, as we have for over 25 years, to help ensure that these combined efforts achieve more effective and timely improvements in water quality in Casco Bay.
What you can do to reduce stormwater and sewage pollution
Support communities’ efforts to upgrade their wastewater and stormwater systems.
Employ “green solutions” to reduce stormwater runoff from our own properties:
install permeable pavement on driveways and patios, so water percolates into the soil below
reduce the size of the lawn; plant shrubs and ground cover, which hold water better then turf
use rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs
Boaters should use shoreside bathroom facilities or pumpout services to keep raw sewage out of the Bay. Our pumpout boat operates from Memorial Day to Halloween. Contact pumpout [at] cascobay [dot] org.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Senator James Hamper
Representative Drew Gattine
Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs
c/o Office of Fiscal and Program Review
5 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Re: Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Support of LD 178: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Jobs, Improve Road Infrastructure and Protect Water Resources
Dear Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine and Distinguished Members of the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs,
Friends of Casco Bay submits this letter in support of LD 178: An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Provide Jobs, Improve Road Infrastructure and Protect Water Resources. We respectfully request that the committee unanimously recommend that LD 178 “Ought to Pass.”
Friends of Casco Bay is a nonprofit organization committed to protecting and improving the water quality of Casco Bay. We have several thousand members and volunteers who rely upon Casco Bay for their livelihoods, recreation, and solace. For over a quarter century, we have monitored the health of Casco Bay and advocated for solutions that eliminate or reduce nonpoint source pollution (NPS) to the Bay.
NPS pollution occurs when rain or snowmelt flows over land, picks up contaminants, and drains into waterways. NPS pollutants can include contaminated sediments, petroleum products from roads, fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants. Nonpoint source flows are the largest source of pollution to coastal Maine waters, and Casco Bay receives significant loads of NPS pollution.
Between 2001 and 2009, we collected rainwater flowing directly into the Bay and analyzed the samples for pesticides. Our goal was to determine “presence” or “absence” of pesticides. Lab results identified 10 different pesticides in 14 locations around the Bay.
In 2014, we collected samples from the mouth of the Presumpscot River during a dry weather flow, a medium rain event, and an intense rain event. In comparison to the dry weather flow, the intense rain event delivered large loads of bacteria, suspended solids, and nitrogen. E.coli during dry weather was detected in trace amounts. Right after the intense rain event, E.coli measured 170 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 ml*. Total suspended solids (TSS) during the dry event measured 3.6 mg/L. After intense rain, TSS measured 60 mg/L**. Total nitrogen measured at .32 mg/L during dry weather and increased to .70 mg/L after the intense rain event.***
The photo below shows a stormwater plume draining into Casco Bay with its brown load of sediment and other pollutants.
“We do have issues when it rains,” Keri Kaczor, Maine Healthy Beaches Coordinator said in 2014. “We have a lot of water in Maine, with the rivers, the streams and the storm drains bringing pollutants from upland areas to the sea. When we have a wet beach season, we have problems.”****
This $5,000,000 bond will fund cost sharing of at least 50% on projects that correct downstream pollution issues through improved upstream stormwater management. Friends of Casco Bay supports this bond because, as our data show, Casco Bay is a downstream water that receives NPS pollution.
Most NPS pollution is not regulated under the Clean Water Act. Instead, Section 319 of the Act provides limited federal funding to reduce NPS pollution. That funding alone is insufficient. State funds must supplement it.
LD 178 fulfills that purpose; it provides funding to reduce upstream sources that negatively impact downstream receiving waters such as Casco Bay. Friends of Casco Bay respectfully requests that the Committee unanimously recommend that LD 178 “Ought to Pass.”
Thank you for considering our testimony.
Ivy L. Frignoca
Friends of Casco Bay
CC: Marianne MacMaster
*E. coli is a specific species of fecal coliform bacteria. It is the best indicator of fecal pollution in fresh water. In
Maine, E. coli levels at designated swimming beaches should not exceed 104 CFU per 100 ml.
**Total suspended solids (TSS) measures the turbidity of the water. Suspended solids cause water to look milky or
muddy as light scatters from very small particles in the water.
*** For purposes of evaluating harmful impacts of nitrogen to marine waters, DEP considers .32 mg/L of nitrogen as
having the reasonable potential to negatively impact eelgrass habitat and .45 mg/L as having the reasonable potential
to negatively impact dissolved oxygen levels.