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What’s Beneath the Beautiful View?

Photo by Jeff Ryan


The Clean Water Act

A true watershed event

In 1971, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine introduced legislation that would eventually become the Clean Water Act. He said, “Today, the rivers of this country serve as little more than sewers to the seas. Wastes from cities and towns, from farms and forests, from mining and manufacturing, foul the streams, poison the estuaries, and threaten the life of the ocean depths.” Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne attests, “In our line of work, the Clean Water Act is the most important piece of legislation ever passed. Its implementation has prevented millions and millions of gallons of raw sewage and untreated industrial waste from being discharged into Casco Bay.” Our work to reduce pollution is, at its heart, about keeping the Clean Water Act’s promise of making our waters safe for fishing and swimming.

It may be hard to believe today, but in the late 1980s, a report entitled “Troubled Waters” labeled Casco Bay as one of the most polluted estuaries in the nation. That report inspired a group of concerned citizens to form Friends of Casco Bay in 1989 to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.

When we were founded, pollution was widespread, but the truth was that no one had a handle on the environmental health of the Bay. So Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne, our first employee, launched our Water Quality Monitoring Program, enlisting volunteer Citizen Stewards to “take the pulse” of Casco Bay using proven scientific methods. Monitoring the water allows us to look at what’s beneath the beautiful view. Joe compares it to “getting a check-up from your doctor. If the usual diagnostic tests, like blood pressure and pulse, show an anomaly, then you do more testing to determine the cause.” We have collected data on many different aspects of water quality over the years; this report focuses on nitrogen, oxygen, water clarity, and pH, as well as other factors, to determine the relative health of our waters.

We are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Over the years, thanks in part to our work, industrial pollution in our coastal waters has decreased, municipalities have worked to reduce sewage pollution, and the Bay has been designated a No Discharge Area, making it one of the most protected water bodies from ship pollution in the country. Today, Casco Bay is ever present on Top Ten vacation and sailing lists. And Friends of Casco Bay is ever present on our waters, working to keep the view beautiful both above and below the surface.

What Is a Waterkeeper?

Joe Payne was one of the first Waterkeepers in the nation and helped cofound Waterkeeper® Alliance. Today, 220 Waterkeepers around the world work to resolve pollution problems that threaten their water bodies. Because of our work-with approach, the Casco Baykeeper has become a model for other Waterkeepers. Friends of Casco Bay attempts to balance both economic and environmental values among those who live, work, and play around the Bay.

Read the next section of the report It Takes a Community to Protect the Bay