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Portland’s Landcare Ordinance Will Help the Bay

In great news for Casco Bay, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to limit the use of fertilizers in Maine’s largest city. On September 19, the council amended the city’s pesticide ordinance to become a landcare ordinance, which now includes policies that will:

  • Prohibit the application of fertilizers within 75 feet of a water body, which includes Casco Bay and the streams that flow into it.
  • Prohibit the application of fertilizers unless a soil test indicates a need for it.
  • Prohibit the application of fertilizers on frozen ground.
  • Limit the quantity and frequency of fertilizer application to performance turf.

These common sense policies are very similar to those found in South Portland’s fertilizer ordinance which was adopted in 2020. Friends of Casco Bay’s former Executive Director, Cathy Ramsdell, served on the committee that developed that ordinance. Limiting the use of fertilizers is not only good for soil health, but it is also great for the Bay.

In Casco Bay, excess nitrogen from fertilizers can cause excessive algal growth that can reduce water clarity, prevent juvenile clams from settling, and suffocate marine life that lives in mudflats. When an algal bloom dies off, its decomposition can lower oxygen levels and contribute to coastal acidification.

We applaud the City of Portland for taking action on this important issue and thank all the Portland residents who expressed their support for the landcare ordinance. Reducing fertilizer use makes a big difference for the health of Casco Bay.

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.

Doggie Do’s and Doggie Don’ts

Many of us love our dogs as much as we love Casco Bay. Some dog owners may even love their dogs more than Casco Bay. 

The good news is dogs and the Bay are not mutually exclusive, and we can love them both! In doing so, here are two important reminders for all of us as we care for our dogs and Casco Bay. 

Cheering the launch of our pumpout boat, Headmaster, Josie the Golden Retriever knows the importance of keeping poop out of the Bay.

Pick Up the Poop

Dog poop contains pathogens and excessive nutrients that can contaminate ponds, streams, rivers, and Casco Bay. All dog owners have the responsibility to pick up after their pups and properly dispose of their poop in the trash. Dog poop should never be discarded in storm drains, which flow directly into waterways, including Casco Bay. 

Abandoned poop bags and piles of dog poop are becoming increasing problems at parks, beaches, and other public spaces that are popular dog walking locations (more dogs means more poop!). Please join us in caring for our waters by picking up after your dog and ensuring no poop washes away into Casco Bay. 

Stay Off the Dunes

Just like humans, dogs love to hit the beach. When they do, please keep them off the sand dunes. These fragile ecosystems are critical for the integrity of the shoreline and help to prevent erosion. During storms, sand dunes serve as a barrier to storm surge and prevent flooding. This ecosystem service is particularly important at beaches like Willard in South Portland, where a neighborhood abuts the beach. When our dogs run loose on sand dunes, they exacerbate erosion and damage the plant life that holds the dunes together. Help us care for our beaches and Casco Bay by keeping dogs off the dunes. 

Please join us in taking on these Bay-friendly doggie-practices and kindly spreading the word to our friends, family, and neighbors. It takes a community to care for the Bay, and that includes our four-legged friends

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

A Major Victory to Reduce One of The Largest Sources of Pollution to Casco Bay

As the Clean Water Act turns 50, Friends of Casco Bay celebrates new permit to reduce stormwater pollution.

Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Yet, until this year, Maine has not required clear, specific, and measurable terms in the permit that controls discharges from large urban stormwater systems.

Thanks to the advocacy of Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Friends of Casco Bay’s partners around the Bay, the state has issued a revised municipal stormwater permit that contains much-needed protections to reduce stormwater pollution flowing from the most urbanized communities in the state. 

Under the Clean Water Act, reducing and eliminating the pollutants that flow through municipal separate storm sewer systems (or “MS4s” for short) is regulated by a general permit issued by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In a city like Portland, these stormwater systems include the streets, storm drains, gutters, roadside ditches, and sewers that discharge untreated stormwater runoff into local waterways, some of which drain into Casco Bay. 

Maine’s new MS4 permit will implement three major changes that should significantly reduce stormwater pollution into Casco Bay and its tributaries. Municipalities that fall under the permit will be required for the first time to:

  • Test stormwater outfalls to identify and eliminate sources of bacterial contamination
  • Develop and adopt an ordinance to require new construction and redevelopment to use low impact development techniques that allow stormwater to flow more naturally and carry less pollution into stormwater systems
  • Take three actions to restore water quality and reduce pollution from their stormwater systems where it flows into impaired waters.

It took five years of advocacy by Friends of Casco Bay and scores of meetings, comments, and proceedings to ensure these vital protections were included in Maine’s new MS4 permit.

“This is a time to celebrate,” says Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca. “The changes in this permit should have huge and visible results for our watershed. What better year to have this permit take effect than during the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Stormwater harms the Bay in so many ways because it carries diverse and varying loads of pollutants. For example, excess nitrogen fertilizes nuisance and sometimes harmful algal blooms. Toxins can poison wildlife and degrade ecosystems. Too much bacteria closes clam flats. As climate change brings more and stronger storms to Maine, the impacts of stormwater pollution will worsen without these changes.”

Conjure an image of Casco Bay. Do you see healthy, blue-green water? Most likely.

Yet anyone who has seen Casco Bay after a large rain might conjure a different image, where that vibrant blue-green is replaced with plumes of murky, brown stormwater.

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

Stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution into Casco Bay. Stormwater is a problem because our roads, driveways, parking lots, and buildings do not allow rain to soak into the ground and be filtered through natural processes. When snow melts in the spring or rain falls, water rushes over our cities and towns, collecting a toxic slurry of pesticides and fertilizers from lawns, exhaust and salt from roadways, pathogens from pet waste, and so much more. In urbanized areas, much of this polluted runoff drains into municipal storm sewer systems that discharge into streams, rivers, and, ultimately, Casco Bay.

There are solutions to this modern problem. By using low impact development techniques, green infrastructure, and testing and investigating sources of contamination, we can drastically reduce this pollution.

A map of MS4 program in the Casco Bay Watershed
A map of MS4 communities in the Casco Bay watershed, provided by the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership.

The new MS4 permit will go into effect in July of this year. In the Casco Bay watershed, it applies to twelve municipalities and specifically regulates stormwater pollution in their most densely populated areas. The municipalities include Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, South Portland, Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland, Yarmouth, and Freeport along the coast, as well as inland communities such as Windham, Westbrook, and Gorham.

Doug Roncarati is a Stormwater Program Coordinator for the City of Portland. “Everything we do on the landscape has the potential to create some kind of pollution,” says Doug. “The environment is very resilient, but throw too much at it over time and it will break down. We protect the environment and the long-term economic wellbeing of our communities by being thoughtful in how we manage our water resources. The MS4 permit is one way we can do that.”

MS4 permits, like all Clean Water Act permits, are renewed every five years. The renewal process provides the opportunity to assess if the permit sufficiently protects water quality or if there are improvements that need to be made. The process also allows for incremental advances that recognize budget constraints, developments in knowledge and technology, and the reality of what can be accomplished in five years. 

MS4 permits that apply to municipalities are required to contain “clear, specific, and measurable” terms to address stormwater pollution, according to a federal court ruling from 2003. In short, this ruling required environmental agencies like the Maine DEP to clearly describe how permitted municipalities should address stormwater pollution. When Maine’s MS4 permit was due to be renewed in 2018, Ivy knew there were important improvements to be made. The last version of the permit issued in 2013 did not include “clear, specific, and measurable” terms to reduce pollution.

“The requirement to set forth ‘clear, specific, and measurable’ terms in MS4 permits may be the best thing to happen for our watershed in a long time,” explains Ivy. “It fundamentally changed how MS4 permits could be written and gave Friends of Casco Bay the foundation to advocate for new permit language that will effectively reduce pollution from past actions and ensure future development does not degrade our waters.”

When the state began the permit renewal process in 2017, Ivy submitted comments on the first draft advocating for these new terms. However, for DEP and many municipalities, implementing a stronger MS4 permit would require valuable time and resources. Over the next four years, Ivy continued to advocate for stricter standards and filed more than eight sets of comments on drafts of the permit.

Ultimately, Friends of Casco Bay filed an appeal to the Maine Board of Environmental Protection asking that the new “clear, specific, and measurable” terms that Ivy had advocated for be included in the permit. In the summer of 2021, the Board of Environmental Protection sided with Friends in the appeal, and Maine’s new MS4 permit was finalized on December 23. In order to provide DEP and affected municipalities additional time to prepare to implement the new terms, it was agreed that the permit would officially go into effect on July 1, 2022.

Will Everitt, Interim Director of Friends of Casco Bay, sees this victory as a great example of how Friends works. “This was a long and challenging process,” says Will. “The way we advocate for the health of the Bay is just as important as what we achieve. We have deep respect for the DEP and affected municipalities. While we sought to address what may be the biggest source of pollution into the Bay, we also worked hard to collaborate with our partners and listen to concerns throughout the process.”

Stenciled storm drain reads, "do not dump, drains to Casco Bay."
A stenciled storm drain at Bug Light in South Portland reminds the public that what goes down the drain ends up in Casco Bay.

Today, there are more people living by and working on Casco Bay than ever before, and as our communities grow, so do our impacts on the health of the Bay. Climate change brings additional challenges to the coast, such as altering ocean chemistry and intensifying rainstorms that will send more stormwater into Casco Bay.

Damon Yakovleff, Environmental Planner at the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, provides technical support to municipalities on stormwater and sustainability projects. “This permit is a part of the broader effort to make this a truly sustainable region that treads more lightly on the environment,” says Damon. “It matters in a holistic way. It is about preventing water pollution, but it goes far beyond that. It’s about supporting our economy, culture, and quality of life.”

The MS4 permit’s new stormwater protections that go into effect beginning this year will help reduce these threats. A healthy Bay is a resilient Bay. With less pollution flowing to our coastal waters, Casco Bay and our coastal communities will be better prepared to withstand the challenges we know are looming on the horizon.

Water Reporter Post of the Month: Susan Woodman

Eyes on the intertidal: Willard Beach algal blooms

After spending her career working and living in Augusta, Susan Woodman knew exactly where she wanted to be when she retired: near the water. As an avid sea kayaker, access to the coast where she could launch her kayak was a top priority, so she chose to move to South Portland. 

“There’s nothing quite like it,” said Susan. “Kayaking on freshwater or the sea, I don’t know how you get any closer to nature. You get to see loons, seals, and all the eiders with their little ducklings, it’s really great.” 

When she is not paddling in her kayak, Susan can often be found a mile from her home walking along Willard Beach where she’s been using Water Reporter to document algal blooms and coastal erosion. One of her recent posts from June 24, shows a field of green algae carpeting the beach’s intertidal zone. A month later, Susan captured another similarly sized bloom at the same location on July 25. 

Algal blooms like the ones Susan saw can reduce water clarity, deplete dissolved oxygen levels, contribute to coastal acidification, and harm intertidal marine life like clams, mussels, and oysters. These bright green blooms are often an indicator of excess nitrogen flowing into Casco Bay from stormwater runoff, sewer overflows, and other sources of nitrogen.

Susan shares that she does not know very much about algae, and that she is far from an expert on the marine environment. However, she intuitively feels a concern for the health of Willard Beach. That feeling sparked on one of her walks a few years back, when she noticed a recent storm had caused substantial erosion and dramatically changed the appearance of the shoreline. “That was when I realized, this is something that maybe I should be paying attention to,” said Susan. 

Now when she is out on her walks, Susan carries her phone with her. If she sees something near the shore that seems striking, good or bad, she shares her observations on the Water Reporter app. Despite the feeling that she is not particularly tech-savvy, Susan has been one of our most active Water Reporters since she joined in January. 

Susan’s recent posts of algal blooms at Willard Beach prompted Friends of Casco Bay to reach out to our colleagues at the City of South Portland’s Water Resource Protection department. The city is aware of the challenges facing Willard Beach, and Water Resource Protection staff take water samples at the beach’s stormwater outfalls. The City is working to reduce nitrogen runoff into the Bay through the implementation of its recently passed fertilizer ordinance. We hope that the city’s efforts will lead to lower concentrations of nutrients in the city’s stormwater, and in turn, fewer and smaller algal blooms at Willard Beach. 

Susan, thank you for all you do to help us keep an eye on Willard Beach and Casco Bay!

Strong storm delivers heavy runoff to Casco Bay

Water Reporter Alert: High Volumes of Stormwater Runoff

We have received reports of high volumes of stormwater runoff entering Casco Bay, following yesterday’s thunderstorm and rain throughout the night.

We look to you to help us track the impacts of strong storms on a changing Bay. If you have time today, please post Water Reporter photographs of streams, rivers, stormwater outfalls, and any other outlets delivering runoff and stormwater into Casco Bay.

Stormwater is a major source of pollution to Casco Bay. Rivers and streams collect runoff that can contain a toxic mixture of car exhaust from our streets, fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns, and even sewage from our wastewater systems.

John Henson, a good Friend of the Bay, contacted us this morning with photos of Mill Creek taken from route 88 in Falmouth Foreside. “I’ve never seen this much stormwater before,” said John in his message.

If you can help us today, adjust for weather and safety. No photo, however dramatic, is worth getting injured or swept away! Also be sure to follow all State of Maine and Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding the pandemic.

Thank you for helping us keep an eye on Casco Bay.

Rising seas and storm surges in Casco Bay

We had an inspiring and informative conversation at our latest Casco Bay Matters event, Sea level, storms, and surges, oh my! How Maine’s coasts can be resilient to climate change. Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky from Maine Geological Survey joined Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca to illuminate the latest science on rising seas, and how we can work together to make our coastline and waters resilient to climate change.

Here is a video of the event, for those of you who were unable to attend live or would like to rewatch. Attendees asked more questions than we had time to answer, so we also created a bonus video where we answered them, see below.

If you don’t have time to watch the full event, there are a few key moments you may want to check out. We’ve assembled these three clips into one playlist to make it easy to watch. The playlist is eight minutes long.

In the first clip, Peter shares how rising seas can dramatically increase the frequency and duration of “nuisance” flooding events in Portland and along the shores of Casco Bay. Thee, Peter discusses the historical trends of sea level rise in Portland, dating back to 1912. He points out that over the past 118 years, nearly 50% of the increase in sea level has occurred since 1990. Finally, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca shares how we can respond to rising seas through adaptable policy informed by science.


Your sea level rise questions answered!

Event attendees asked more questions than we had time to answer . . . until now.

Community Engagement Coordinator Sarah Lyman recently followed up with Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca and Marine Geologist Peter Slovinsky to answer questions we did have time to address during the event. Including:

  • Where can we get good local information about projected sea level rise in our community?
  • Can future governors disband Maine’s Climate Council?
  • What will it cost us if we don’t begin to adapt to coming changes?
  • What are some useful actions we can take to help address climate change and sea level rise?

We hope you enjoy this Casco Bay Matters bonus content!

In this bonus content video, Pete and Ivy mention a number of resources. Here are links to those resources:

We are beginning to see the effects of climate change here in Casco Bay. Anticipating and adapting to the impacts of rising seas and stronger storms will prove critical to protecting the health of our coastal waters. If you are on our email list, we will keep you informed on ways you can help make your voice heard on these issues as state and local decision makers continue to develop climate change policies. Joining our email list is also the best way to stay up to date about future events.

If you want to do more, you can always support our work by making a donation or volunteering.

Storm drains are more important than you may think

People walk past storm drains every day without giving them a thought.

Yet, storm drains deserve our attention. Storm drains are designed to help prevent flooding by diverting rainwater from our streets and parking lots into a natural body of water. But when storm drains are clogged or misused, they deliver unwanted pollution to streams, rivers, and Casco Bay.

Will you help keep pollution out of our storm drains?

It is important to the health of the Bay that storm drains stay clear and free of litter, waste, and chemicals. We can each do our part to help keep storm drains working as they should:

  • Clear leafy debris and other material from the storm drain so water can flow into it.
  • Move your car or other obstructions when your community schedules street sweeping. Municipalities sweep the streets to keep their storm drain systems working properly. Portland has geared up for their fall sweeping, and other communities may be doing so as well.
  • Never put anything down a storm drain. This includes: dog poop whether it is bagged or not, trash, cigarettes, hazardous wastes, such as household cleaners, unused paint, paint thinner, used oil, and lawn care chemicals.
  • Pick up after your pet and toss the waste in the trash.
  • Hang on to your leftover paints and pesticides for municipality-designated household hazardous waste collection days.
  • Don’t dump outdated medicines down a storm drain.
  • Pick up litter so it never makes it to a storm drain.
  • Remember, Casco Bay is downstream from everything in the watershed!

In Portland, street sweepers remove an average of 2,666 tons of grit, trash, and debris each year! A cigarette butt or pet waste thrown into a storm drain may seem like a small thing, but those small items add up.

Thank you for helping reduce stormwater pollution to Casco Bay. Your efforts will complement the work municipalities are doing to reduce the flow of pollutants such as fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria, and trash to our coastal waters.

These images of dog poop bags and other debris at an outfall (left) and being cleaned out using special equipment (right) are courtesy of City of Portland’s Public Works Department.

Join us for What is Casco Bay telling us?

This year has been unprecedented. Casco Bay is exhibiting changing conditions that may impact our community, marine heritage, and our economy in years to come.

Join Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca, and Staff Scientist Mike Doan for a conversation about what we have been seeing out on the Bay this year, what our data are telling us, and what we, as a community and a state, need to do to address some of the impacts of climate change on the Bay.

On Wednesday, October 21, grab your lunch, log on to Zoom, and join the conversation.

You must register to join this event. We would love you to join us.

Register Now

What: What Casco Bay Is Telling Us: A Casco Bay Matters Event

When: Wednesday, October 21, 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m.

This event will take place via Zoom. We will send you instructions for joining the event after you register.

Reducing a large source of pollution into the Bay

After a rainstorm, millions of gallons of polluted stormwater pour into Casco Bay.A wedge of dirty brown water floating on Casco Bay after a hard rain makes it is easy to understand that stormwater is one of the largest sources of pollution to our coastal waters. Stormwater can wash fertilizer, oil, pesticides, dirt, bacteria and other pollutants into our coastal waters. After one heavy rainstorm, we found a wedge of polluted stormwater 18 feet deep floating on top of seawater in Portland Harbor. Some of that polluted water flows into the Bay through storm drains, pipes, and ditches maintained by municipalities.

Over the next five years, many of the larger municipalities in the Casco Bay watershed will try to significantly reduce stormwater pollution. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection issues a new permit every five years to regulate pollution from municipal separate storm sewer systems. In each new permit cycle, the intent is to make communities more effective at reducing stormwater pollution.

Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca is especially excited about two new provisions in the draft permit that regulates pollution from municipal separate storm sewer systems—MS4s for short.

Says Ivy, “Under the proposed permit, municipalities must test their stormwater outfalls for bacteria and other pollutants—and if found, they must trace them back to the source and work to eliminate the pollutants. Second, if a stormwater system discharges into an urban impaired stream listed in the permit, the municipality must identify ways it will reduce pollution, both through structural changes to treat stormwater and nonstructural changes, which could include adoption of an ordinance to restrict and reduce the use of fertilizers.”

Fred Dillon, South Portland Stormwater Program Coordinator, and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca test for bacteria in a municipal stormwater pipe in the Willard Beach neighborhood. [Photo taken last summer.]
Our Casco Baykeeper commented on many preliminary drafts of the new MS4 permit. She also met with state and town officials many times to discuss permit terms. Says Ivy, “We are gratified that our towns and cities worked with us and agreed to take these measures to improve and protect the waters we cherish and rely on.”

Fred Dillon, South Portland’s Stormwater Program Coordinator, reflects, “Ivy and Friends of Casco Bay were instrumental in helping MS4 communities step up our water resource protection efforts while also ensuring we have the adequate funding to do so.” South Portland is one of the communities around Casco Bay regulated under the general MS4 permit, along with Cape Elizabeth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Freeport, Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook, and Yarmouth.