Clean Water
“High quality water is more than the dream of the conservationists, more than a political slogan; high quality water, in the right quantity at the right place at the right time, is essential to health, recreation, and economic growth.”
—Senator Edmund Muskie
Securing Maines Future Web

Clean water is the lifeblood of Maine. It’s what we drink, where we work and play, and why our fisheries are some of the best in the world. Maine people know it’s our responsibility to protect our lakes, streams, and coastal waters for future generations. We can do more to prevent water pollution that jeopardizes our health, our fish and wildlife, and our recreation economy.

Why protect our lakes, streams, and ocean waterways?

Clean, safe drinking water is the basis of life itself. Maine is blessed with an abundance of safe and reliable drinking water sources. About half of Maine people get their drinking water from public water systems while half drink water from residential wells. Preventing contamination of Maine’s lakes, streams, and groundwater is essential to securing safe drinking water sources for our communities.

Our lakes, rivers, and coastal waters are what make Maine a special place. Maine has more than 6,000 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, and 5,000 miles of coastline. Maine lakes generate $3.5 billion annually for our economy, sustain 52,000 jobs, and provide drinking water for more than 600,000 people. Maine’s beautiful beaches draw over 12 million visitors and contribute $1.6 billion to our economy every year. The Maine Beaches region (towns from Kittery to Old Orchard Beach) is the primary destination of 25% of overnight visitors and 35% of day visitors to Maine.

Protecting the health of our waters and fisheries is essential to our future livelihood. Maine waters support more wild brook trout than anywhere else in the nation and Maine’s fresh water fishing industry adds more than $300 million to Maine’s economy every year. Our lobster industry generates at least $1.5 billion in economic activity annually, and aquaculture adds an additional $137 million.

Threats to Maine waters

Maine waters are too often polluted by untreated sewage and storm water runoff. Hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated storm water and sewage are discharged into Maine waters every year due to outdated municipal “combined sewer overflow” systems that cannot handle heavy rain storms. Water quality is further degraded by failed septic systems, as well as excess fertilizer, pesticides, animal waste, detergents, and industrial runoff that wash into our waterways from roads, bridges, and other impervious surfaces. This nitrogen and phosphorous runoff can lead to algal blooms that harm our health, kill shellfish and other animals, and lower the value of waterfront properties. Pesticide use by homeowners and lawn/tree care companies has increased by 700% over the past two decades.

When Maine’s drinking water becomes contaminated, it can cause serious illness. Groundwater, aquifers, and lakes are the primary sources of Maine’s drinking water. Contaminated water can transmit diseases and lead to cancer, reproductive problems, and learning disabilities. Contaminants can be naturally occurring chemicals and minerals, or they can be pollutants from farming, manufacturing, wastewater, and plumbing systems. Many Maine lakes are experiencing harmful algae blooms while about one in six residential wells is contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic. And though lead is not naturally found in water, it can dissolve into water from plumbing fixtures and piping, contaminating the drinking water in homes, schools, and businesses.

Carbon pollution is putting our fisheries in jeopardy. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than almost any other ocean area on earth, resulting in the northward migration of many cold-loving fish, including cod, haddock, pollock, and lobster. At the same time, carbon pollution is also increasing the acidity of our oceans, making it harder for mussels, clams, and oysters to build their shells and mature. These are all species that have been central to Maine’s fishing industries for generations. And while federal efforts to limit carbon pollution are stalled, the livelihoods of Maine’s commercial fishermen and fishing communities hang in the balance.

Drilling for oil or gas off the coast of Maine poses a grave threat to our way of life. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposal to allow off-shore drilling for oil and gas puts the health of our beaches and coastal waters, along with our fishing, recreation, and tourism economies, in extreme danger. Oil spills and pollution from drilling operations could cause irreversible damage and Maine’s coastal communities are on the front lines.

Marine debris, particularly plastics, threatens the health of our coastal waters. Marine debris is polluting our waters, seafood, and wildlife. Scientists estimate that up to 80% of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic. Plastic debris of any size can break into tiny fragments and researchers have found these microplastics in every location they have tested off the coast of Maine. Larger marine debris litters our coast and ocean floor, causing significant harm, even death, to marine animals and birds.

Policy Priority:

Clean Water Jobs & Infrastructure

In many communities, wastewater systems and deteriorating roads, bridges, and culverts are failing to keep our waters safe from untreated sewage and storm water runoff. Most Maine towns do not have the ability to finance upgrades to sewer systems or make needed improvements to camp roads. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has identified approximately $1 billion of known needs to upgrade Maine’s wastewater infrastructure.

Investing in clean water infrastructure and pollution reduction will protect and restore Maine’s waters and fisheries, leverage significant additional funding, and support thousands of jobs.

By 2022, Maine needs to...

  • invest at least $135 million in upgrading wastewater systems and reducing storm water runoff from roads and bridges by issuing $55 million in state bonds, which will draw down at least $80 million from other funding sources and support 2,100 jobs.
  • strengthen the clarity, permitting, and enforcement between state and local policies that are meant to protect water quality.
  • improve mechanisms for municipalities to fund code enforcement officers and take enforcement actions to court, if need be.
  • assist rural residents with testing and treatment of residential wells or extension of public water supplies.

More opportunities to prevent water pollution

Investing in safe drinking water gives Maine kids a healthy start. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, treating groundwater costs 30-40 times more than preventing contamination in the first place. We can ensure Maine’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund has the resources to help community public water systems maintain their drinking water storage and piping infrastructure. And we can support the work of Maine’s Drinking Water Program, which monitors drinking water sources, assures compliance with federal standards for safe water, and offers lead in water testing for schools, free of charge. This gives every school district in Maine the opportunity to ensure their drinking water is clean and safe for their students, staff, and visitors.

Securing Maine’s clean water includes defending federal safeguards. The national Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act are groundbreaking frameworks for protecting human health and the environment. They have been working to clean up our nation’s water and air for decades, yet they are under threat from polluters and their allies in Washington. Maine won’t benefit from allowing cars and trucks to increase their emissions, and we won’t benefit from relaxing the limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants under the Clean Power Plan. We must continue to support and defend federal safeguards that protect us from out-of-state polluters, keep our families healthy, our fish and wildlife thriving, and our jobs in fisheries and tourism secure.