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July 26—The Day the Poop Hit the Bay

Out and About with the Casco Baykeeper

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.

Polluted water gushes into Casco Bay from a combined sewer overflow beneath Portland’s busy waterfront.
Photo credit: Dave Laliberte

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.

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.

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.”

Nabbing Nitrogen results

Nabbing Nitrogen Flash Mob: What We Learned

Nabbing Nitrogen results
Nitrogen levels were high at every place we sampled. The highest levels of
nitrogen were found closer to land, in tidal creeks and near combined sewer
overflows. Lower nitrogen levels were found further from shore.

On Sunday morning, July 10th, 2016, at precisely 10:10 a.m., 97 people knelt down along the edge of Portland Harbor and scooped up small vials of water from Casco Bay. They were not praising Poseidon—they were Nabbing Nitrogen.

A recent heavy rain had flushed a surge of stormwater into the Fore River, so we were not surprised that
the analysis of their water samples found elevated levels of nitrogen. The most important takeaway of the event, though, was that there is an amazing Casco Bay community of volunteers ready and willing to get involved when we send out a call to action!

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

Rainstorms – We’ve Had Some Doozies!

Presumscot River Creates a Brown BayThis past week’s deluge (5.6 inches in Portland) reminded us of the storm last summer, on August 13, 2014 (6.4 inches in Portland) when Casco Bay changed color – from blue to ghastly. We’ve seen the Bay turn brown, brown yellow, brown green – anything but blue, with anything-but-fresh rainwater sitting on it, mixing with it, polluting it.

The spring storms of 2012 prompted Joe Payne, now our Casco Baykeeper Emeritus, to pen this piece, which we repost here for reflection.

 

 

The Bay is brown, the Bay is hurt

Posted on May 8, 2012 by Joe Payne

People have often asked Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne what he thinks about during a big rainstorm . . .

As April showers gave way to May showers, I couldn’t help thinking about the effect on Casco Bay. During and after a rainstorm, a brown stain spreads far out from the shore. The rainwater runoff carries soil, gas and oil from city streets, and fertilizers and pesticides from yards into marine habitats.

For a day or two, the expanse of brown water is all too visible, but its impact is quickly forgotten as the seawater returns to its normal color. Many people don’t make a connection between a big rainstorm and our coastal waters, but it always worries me. Once, after a particularly heavy rain storm, scientists at Friends of Casco Bay measured 15 feet of freshwater runoff floating on top of the seawater near Fort Gorges. Freshwater kills marine organisms.

But that is not the worst part. Whenever there is a measurable rainfall, Casco Bay is injected with millions upon millions of gallons of polluted water. This toxic soup can sicken swimmers, make seafood unsafe to eat, and harm marine life. Big rainstorms cause productive clam flats in Casco Bay to be closed because of widespread pollution.

Why does this happen? In order to keep sewage from backing up into homes or spurting up through manhole covers when it rains, many Maine communities have built systems of underground pipes that divert stormwater runoff and untreated sewage into streams, rivers, and the ocean. These systems are called Combined Sewer Overflows, and they can disgorge several million gallons of raw sewage, industrial waste, and polluted stormwater. More sewage is flushed into the ocean after only primary treatment, where screening and settling tanks remove less than half the pollutants.

Untold millions of gallons of polluted runoff flow into the Bay, as the whole landscape is washed by inches of rain. Roads, drains, and stormwater pipes bypass the sewage treatment system entirely and shoot polluted rainwater straight into streams, rivers, and the Bay.

250 years ago, when there were only 12,000 people in Maine, the rain that fell on the land was mostly absorbed by forests and undergrowth. The rain that ran off into rivers and streams carried nutrients that nurtured aquatic life. The ecosystem was in balance. Now, with 1.2 million people, Maine has changed dramatically. This has been incremental change, change that hasn’t imposed itself on our day to day consciousness. Along the way, we’ve built homes, factories, and roads where trees used to be. The internal combustion engine changed our state in a fundamental way. Earth Day and Rachel Carson remembrances remind us that earlier in most of our lifetimes, air pollution and water pollution went relatively unchecked. Until four decades ago, there was no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, and no EPA.

So, are things better now? I don’t think the Bay would agree. While much is better, the toxic mix made from rainwater and all the chemicals that go into the air and onto the land is getting worse. More people, more vehicles, more pollution. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the pollution to water bodies comes from runoff from land. The worst part is that a majority of people sit like lobsters in a pot of tepid water, unaware that it will come to a boil. At Friends of Casco Bay, we have to battle to convince the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection that we are not Chicken Little, that serious, consequential changes are happening to our Bay right now, that we can’t continue to treat each new insult as one more incremental, negligible change.

I’m not against progress; what I’m against is the momentum of progress without the commitment to protect our water resources in equal measure.

Days of rain depress me. It’s not the gloomy weather; it’s the realization that we are sickening our coastal waters. I wonder how much more can the Bay take. How much longer will the communities that depend on the Bay be able to depend on the Bay?

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

Sources of Nitrogen to Casco Bay

Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

Sources of Nitrogen to Casco Bay
Source: Castro, M. S., Driscoll, C. T., Jordan, T. E., Reay, W. G., and Boynton, W. R., 2003, Sources of Nitrogen to Estuaries in the United States. Estuaries 26, No. 3: 803-814.

Excess nitrogen comes into Casco Bay from three different sources, almost in equal proportion—from sewage, from stormwater runoff, and from the sky (see pie chart).

When we look at the relationship between nitrogen and salinity (see graph below), we see high levels of nitrogen closer to shore where salinity is lower. This is evidence that much of the excess nitrogen found in Casco Bay is coming from land-based activities, such as polluted stormwater runoff and sewage treatment plant discharges.

Salinity is the measure of how salty water is. Salinity of the open ocean is 35 parts per thousand or 3.5% saltiness. Casco Bay is less salty and averages around 31 parts per thousand, mainly because of stormwater and fresh water from rivers and streams flowing into coastal waters. The water in Casco Bay, in general, is saltier farther from land, though fluctuations do occur.

The time of year also has a big impact on the salinity of Casco Bay. Salinity plummets every spring as snow melts, flooding rivers and streams that run into the Bay. Heavy rains also reduce salinity in the Bay.

Higher levels of nitrogen are found closer to shore where salinity is lower. This indicates that much of the excess nitrogen found in Casco Bay is coming from land-based sources such as polluted stormwater runoff and sewage treatment plants.
y = -0.03x + 1.1, R2 = 0.46*
*The trend lines of the graphs throughout this report illustrate the pattern of the data. The equation (y=) describes the trend line that best fits the data. The R2 value tells us how well the data fit around the trend line, indicating the reliability of the line.

Read the next section of the report The Impact of Coastal Acidification—It Shucks to Be a Clam

The Report: A Changing Casco Bay

A Changing Casco Bay: The Bay Where You Work and Play Is at Risk

Learn How You Can Help Protect the Health of Casco Bay

For a full version of the report A Changing Casco Bay in PDF, please use this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_dTKz-k7OLmQzRlWGxFaXhwNGM/view?usp=sharing

Valued for its rich diversity of marine life, Casco Bay was designated an Estuary of National Significance by the federal government in 1990. A technical report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on environmental benchmarks found that Casco Bay had twice as many marine organisms as other temperate bays. Since 1989, Friends of Casco Bay has been working to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

The dots indicate work that Friends of Casco Bay volunteers and staff have done around the Bay over the past 25 years. Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

Report Sections

Click on any topic below to jump to that section.

What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay

How Healthy Is Casco Bay?

Trends in Water Quality

The Double Whammy—Climate Change and Nitrogen Pollution

Nitrogen—Can’t Live Without It, Can’t Live With Too Much of It

Where Does All This Nitrogen Pollution Come From?

It Shucks to Be a Clam

What Starts on Our Lawns Ends Up in Our Bay

What Is Our Coastal Future?

YOU Can Make a Difference

Anything but “Fresh”. . .

 

Casco Bay by the Numbers

236,483 = Number of residents living in the Casco Bay watershed, from Bethel to the Bay (2010)

1 in 5 = Number of Mainers living in the Casco Bay watershed

578 = Miles of shoreline around the Bay

200 = Approximate area of water in the Bay in square miles

785 = Islands and exposed ledges in the Bay

$628,143,000 = Value of ocean related activities on and around Casco Bay (2011)

 

Working Waterfront and Scenic Postcard

Casco Bay extends from Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth to Cape Small in Phippsburg, encompassing 13 coastal communities, including two of Maine’s largest cities, Portland and South Portland, and two of Maine’s newest towns, Long Island and Chebeague Island. The Casco Bay watershed collects water across a landscape of nearly 1,000 square miles, from 42 communities between Bethel and the coast.

Casco Bay is an estuary, where rivers and tides converge. Rivers add nutrients, tides deliver cold, oxygen-rich seawater, and relatively shallow depths provide protected habitat. These factors make our estuary the feeding, breeding, and nursery grounds for 850 species of marine life in Casco Bay, from microscopic plants to migrating pilot whales, and for 150 kinds of waterbirds that nest here.

The circulation of water around Casco Bay is affected by runoff from rivers and streams, tidal action, currents, winds, and geography. Many small rivers, including the Fore, Presumpscot, Harraseeket, Royal, and Cousins, empty directly into Casco Bay, but their collective volume cannot match the influence of the Kennebec River. Even though it is not in the Casco Bay watershed, we have detected runoff from the Kennebec at Halfway Rock, nearly nine nautical miles from where the river enters the ocean.

Casco Bay is both a working waterfront—a port of call for cruise ships, oil tankers, and bulk cargo transports—and a scenic postcard of historic forts, stalwart lighthouses, and secluded anchorages.

In the mid-1800s, tanneries, foundries, slaughterhouses, and shipyards crowded the Casco Bay waterfront. Later, power plants, filling stations, tank farms, and discharge pipes from industry and sewage treatment plants were added to the shoreline. Though many of these pollution sources have been removed, polluted runoff, overflows from sewage pipes en route to sewage treatment plants, boater sewage, the threat of oil spills, and the effects of climate change jeopardize the health of the Bay.

For over 23 years, staff and volunteers have been collecting data for Friends of Casco Bay, to give us a better understanding of the health of our coastal waters. This report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, pH, and pesticides, to create a comprehensive overview of the water quality of the Bay.

Read next section of the report What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

Thank You to Our Volunteer Citizen Scientists

Thank You to Our Donors