S4E3 Maine’s Clean Water Act: A Celebration of Progress

On this episode, we talk with Rebecca Schaffner, Chris O. Yoder, Brian Kavanah, and David L. Courtemanch about the Clean Water Act, in celebration of Maine Policy Review’s special section titled “50 Years of the Clean Water Act.” To commemorate this significant milestone of half a century since the passage of the Clean Water Act, we brought in a panel of experts to highlight Maine’s efforts to improve water quality and the need to maintain and strengthen water quality protections.

You can find the articles discussed in this episode here: Maine Policy Review 32.1

[00:00:00] Eric Miller: Hello and welcome back to Maine Policy Matters, the official podcast of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, where we discuss the policy matters that are most important to Maine’s people and why Maine policy matters at the local, state, and national levels. My name is Eric Miller, and I’ll be your host.

Today, we’ll be talking with Rebecca Schaffner, Chris Yoder, Brian Kavanah and David Courtemanch about the Clean Water Act in celebration of Maine Policy Review’s special section titled, “50 Years of the Clean Water Act”. This significant milestone of half a century since the passage of the Clean Water Act, we are bringing in a panel of experts to highlight Maine’s efforts to improve water quality and the need to maintain and strengthen water quality protections.

Rebecca Schaffner and David Courtemanch were two of five authors of the article “Before and After the Clean Water Act: How Science, Law, and Public Aspirations Drove Seven Decades of Progress in Maine water Quality. Schaffner is a GIS coordinator in the Bureau of Water Quality at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection with expertise in environmental research, water quality monitoring, and geographic information systems.

She analyzes statewide water quality data, provides support to DEP staff and citizen science programs by developing mobile apps, and creates maps for display of environmental data. Courtemanch is a freshwater science and policy analyst with the Nature Conservancy in Maine, and was formerly the Director of Environmental Assessment for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In that role, he had responsibility for developing state water quality standards and assessment of their attainment. A primary focus of that work was the establishment of biologically based methods to assess water quality.

Chris Yoder was featured in Maine Policy Review with his article, “50 Years of the Clean Water Act: Can We Sustain Its Success?”. Yoder is the research director at the Midwest Biodiversity Institute in Hilliard, Ohio. He manages and executes projects related to water quality and biological assessments with the U. S. EPA, states, non governmental, private, and other public organizations. Yoder’s other work experience includes Ohio EPA, Ohio University, and service on national, regional, and state working groups dealing with monitoring, biological criteria, total maximum daily load assessments, water quality standards, and thermobiology.

And lastly, Brian Kavanah was featured in Maine Policy Review with his article, “Maine’s Clean Water Infrastructure: Transformative Power and Ongoing Needs”. Kavanah has worked in the field of environmental protection for 35 years, holding a variety of positions with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and briefly with the US EPA in New York City.

Brian was appointed as the director of the Bureau of Water Quality in April 2019. He was responsible for all aspects of the water quality programs at Maine DEP. And now onto our panel discussion.

Hi all, thanks so much for joining us today. Can you give some background to the condition of water quality in Maine at the time of the passage of the Clean Water Act?

Uh, David, we’ll start with you.

[00:03:16] David Courtemanch: It was, uh, the condition in Maine, I would say was contrast from, you know, really deplorable conditions to some excellent conditions, depended on which water body you’re in, where you were in the state. You know, we had rivers like the Androscoggin which was, you know, one of the 10 worst in the country.

Of course, you have the Allagash in the northern part of the state which is, you know, one of the finest. So, and the same thing with, you know, with lakes, and most of our lakes are quite good, but we had Sebasticook Lake, which again was nationally recognized in textbooks and everywhere else for It’s tragic condition and same with coastal waters, you know, Casco Bay and Penobscot Bay and pretty bad.

But then you had the area around the Acadia National Park, for instance, so it’s all a matter of contrast.

[00:04:08] Eric Miller: I see. Yeah, the spatial variability is, is quite amazing. Rebecca, do you have anything you’d like to add to a condition of Maine’s water quality in the mid 20th century?

[00:04:20] Rebecca Schaffner: Yeah, I would say that people were concerned about water quality well before you know, the Clean Water Act was passed, um, as early as the thirties and forties, there were, uh, you know, reports of illness and, and damage to property, um, around industrial rivers in Maine. And that’s when, you know, people started discussing how to, what to do about it, how to treat water quality. Um, so kind of during that, you know, starting around that time, people started to meet interstate, uh, organization started to meet and, um, talk about ways to begin, uh, addressing water quality issues. Dave pointed out, you know, the major industrial rivers like the Androscoggin, the Kennebec, and the Penobscot. So those were kind of the focal point, but we also had, you know, remote areas where there were impacts from logging and agriculture in less populated areas.

So, um, it was a pretty wide range of, of impacts and issues facing the state.

[00:05:19] Eric Miller: Gotcha. A mix of, of point source and runoff types of pollution, uh, going on, depending on the, uh, water body, it seems like. Uh, so what has been the condition of Maine’s water quality since 1972 when the Clean Water Act was passed? And as there are different human and ecological, ecological perspectives to, um, understand here, what does it mean to have good water quality. Uh, Chris, we’ll start with you.

[00:05:50] Chris Yoder: Well, good water quality being would be water quality that meets water quality standards. Although those, in some cases, did predate the Clean Water Act, uh, having water quality standards with the most up to date science was a key part of the Clean Water Act.

The goal was really affirmed at that time to have all water bodies meeting water quality standards. And so that would be considered to be good.

[00:06:17] Eric Miller: Yeah. Uh Brian, do you have anything you’d like to add to, uh, human and ecological differences in what it means to have, um, good water?

[00:06:27] Brian Kavanah: Yeah, I think just generally speaking in terms of good water, it’s been a pretty steady improvement, you know, since the Clean Water Act was passed, uh, for rivers and marine waters.

You know, the gross pollution has been pretty much addressed the oxygen depletion with solids, the color, the odor, the foam, those issues have been successfully addressed. We do see, uh, you know, some lakes, uh, water quality issues due to nonpoint source issues and, and, uh, enrichment with, with phosphorus due to erosion.

We have programs to work on that, but it’s also, I think, reflect the changes reflected in the changes in our classification system. You know, we have a classification system that for all the waters, fresh waters from AA, A, B, and C, AA the highest. Marine water, same sort of system of SA, SB, and SC, and lakes or GBA.

And, you know, we’ve seen over the years. Uh, pretty much a steady movement up in class, you know, we have, we just have a D class that’s been eliminated. We don’t have many C class, fresh waters in the state any longer. So there’s, it’s water quality is improved. So they’ve all been able to kind of step up and we have more AA and A waters that we had back when the Clean Water Act was passed and as was mentioned, our classification system really reflects both the human and ecological aspects of water quality, the designated uses, the human uses of recreation in and on the water and being able to use the water body as a drinking water source after treatment or disinfection and using it for fishing and agriculture. Those are all kind of the, the marks of, is it meeting standards? And generally we do meet standards and the ecological pieces, uh, is it suitable habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms? And we use a biological system to determine that and some of our freshwater is actually looking at the, the bugs, the critters in the water to help tell us whether it’s meeting standards or not.

[00:08:33] Eric Miller: I see. Yes. Indicator species. We, we love, uh, indicator species in ecological health. Uh, Rebecca, do you have anything you’d like to speak to in terms of, uh, like humans interacting with water and what might motivate them and, um, what it means to have good water?

[00:08:51] Rebecca Schaffner: I wanted to expand a little bit on the, uh, classification system.

Um, and between like 1985 and the mid-nineties, early 2000s, we went from A waters and AA waters, the best waters being only 25 percent of the state to now it’s over 50 percent and there was a big bump in that after, uh, the Clean Water Act and, um, after wastewater treatment plants started being, coming online and being built.

And since then, you know, changes have been more gradual. I think everyone else pretty much covered it, but the basic definition in the Clean Water Act of good water quality is that the water is drinkable, fishable, and swimmable. So Maine has to interpret that and decide how to create standards that will assist us in getting to that criteria.

[00:09:41] Eric Miller: I see, uh, David, in your career as a freshwater scientist, what, are there specific moments that stand out to you in terms of what you’ve seen over the years in the development of these improvements?

[00:09:54] David Courtemanch: Yeah, I mean, looking at ecologically, which is how I often would look at water quality, you know, how well the aquatic life is doing, which is really kind of a basic goal here is, you know, the living part of the ecosystem has to function. It’s, um, so, and I would, uh, point to I mean, Maine was unique, uh, in developing, uh, kind of ecological standards. And I would even point to Chris Yoder who’s out in Ohio. These 2 states were the leading states in developing that kind of technology, uh, to monitor the system.

So, uh, very different from chemical monitoring that I think most people may be more familiar with, uh, but, um, really gives us a direct measure of how well the system is doing when you measure the biology of these systems.

[00:10:58] Eric Miller: Very nice. Yeah. It takes a large effort to manage large transboundary resources and so that requires government, universities, nonprofit entities to collaborate and ensure that Maine’s water quality remains high and those areas that could use improvement, those projects are adequately implemented and covered. Brian, would you mind speaking to how some of these layers of government universities and entities collaborate?

[00:11:28] Brian Kavanah: Sure, you know, I, it really takes everybody to protect and improve the waters of the state, you know, it’s, it’s a partnership and it’s everybody working together and playing their role and hopefully it’s, you know, an integrated and comprehensive system kind of from top to bottom, you know, you could start with with Congress and our legislature, you know, they provide the funding and the legal authority for the laws that we implement. Uh, you know, a good example of funding is recently the bipartisan infrastructure law. That’s the most money that’s ever been made available to the states for uh, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, among other things, and that state of Maine is going to benefit from that quite a bit.

We’ll have a good bump in what we have available for infrastructure. We’re going to have about 90 million dollars. We’ll get to our top funding from that. And so that’s really going to help protect and improve the waters of the state. So, and then you move down to, you know, the federal agencies, EPA, they pass money through and again, provide oversight and funding and, and authority for the Clean Water Act, and they provide support and assistance to the states.

And they’re our partners and we work closely with them. And at the state level, you know, the department implements the Clean Water Act programs and state water quality law, and we partner with NGOs and the regulated community in a number of ways, and the Maine tribes, they help us a lot with water quality monitoring NGOs at a national, state and local level.

They advocate for federal and state funding and legislation, keep an eye on what we’re doing. Their recipients have passed through money from the department to their organizations to do work. An example of that would be local lake associations, where we pass through federal funding for them to do water quality studies and implementation projects, protect lakes.

Then you get the regulated community, you know, we regulate wastewater dischargers at the municipal level. And, uh, we work with their associations pretty closely to do, uh, training and hold conferences and, and work together on pressing issues like PFAS and wastewater sludge and effluent. And we’ve got the universities like the Mitchell Center up in Orono, uh, where they do water related research on hot issues like PFAS at the moment, hold annual water conferences, and educate the next generation of water quality professionals and advocates. So all those entities work together as hopefully a comprehensive system to protect the waters of the state.

[00:13:50] Eric Miller: Thank you for that excellent overview.

Uh, Chris, do you have any examples of a collaboration that you can speak to that stick out in your mind?

[00:13:58] Chris Yoder: Yeah, and I think Maine is probably one of the best examples of that, I know that from having worked in Maine for the last 22 years on a project, but I guess the one thing I wanted to say the traditional collaboration between the states and the, what we call the non-governmental organization interest groups in a lot of cases, they, the NGOs comment on what the states do, or propose, or EPA proposes, and it, the effectiveness of that varies widely across the country. A lot of it today has been unfortunately driven by almost deliberate efforts in some states to weaken how the Clean Water Act is implemented by the states, and I got, I did get at that in my article, a couple of examples, including one in Maine that happened in, in 2010.

Um, While Maine seems to have recovered from that episode, a lot of states are not recovering from it and are still suffering from it. So that’s where, you know, NGOs need to be, become better educated about these efforts. They, there’s so much of it, it’s hard to keep up with. You know, you folks in Maine have been really fortunate to have effective citizen oversight, I’ll call it, and a lot more effective than it is in a lot of places across the country.

Last comment I would make is Maine really, Dave mentioned Ohio’s system. I mean, Maine and Ohio were, since the 1980s, have been recognized as the leading states for having these classification schemes that are what we call tiered schemes and are based on direct biological endpoints where the vast majority of states have what I call a one size fits all approach.

It’s what I call 1970s technology and it hasn’t been modernized in all that time. So nationally, I think we’re in a lot different shape nationally than you are in Maine. Let’s put it that way. So that’s one of the, if we could highlight because people who might see this podcast outside of the state need to be aware of that and need to start looking at it in their individual states.

[00:15:59] Eric Miller: Something particularly special about Maine is the environmental ethic and relationship that folks have with the land.

I think it’s, it’s something very special.

[00:16:07] Chris Yoder: I just, yeah, I agree. I mean, it’s just the, the closeness to the land of the water and the dependency on it that people in Maine have that varies a lot. You know, you go to a very industrial state like Ohio, that kind of natural stewardship isn’t always present.

[00:16:26] Eric Miller: Yeah, absolutely. Rebecca, do you have anything you’d like to add on this collaboration or if, how research is conducted across multiple organizations or how government and research entities, uh, work, other research entities work together and share information?

[00:16:42] Rebecca Schaffner: Yeah, uh, I just wanted to note that this paper in Main Policy Review, Dave is the first author and a precursor paper to that in Papers in Applied Geography, there’s five authors on there and we’re from all the different sectors, government, academic, and nonprofit NGO, so it’s a pretty good example right there of knowledge base from all the different areas. Just on an anecdotal level, I’m involved in a couple of projects where I set up mobile apps and collect data from citizen programs, either citizen science or citizen monitoring.

And one of these is a courtesy boat inspection program, which is administered by the IFNW and DEP, and that program inspects over 80,000 boats a year over the past, you know, 10 years or so for invasive plants, and there’s no way DEP or IFNW could do that by themselves. It’s, um. It’s a huge joint effort.

[00:17:37] Eric Miller: Awesome. David, would you mind speaking to the collaboration of standard setting and if you would like enforcement as well?

[00:17:47] David Courtemanch: Well, I mean, if you look at the different entities, you know, you have government entities that are the regular, you know government’s the regulator. Uh, but they take information from business community, that you know, regulate parties, the NGOs, the universities and all, how that kind of has to merge together to come up with a reasonable set of standards, something that, uh, is protective of the goals that we’ve set. You know, our classification system is very goal based, both human and, and ecologically set. So that’s the, kind of the tough part for government is to come up with those standards that will satisfy the goals.

And then, of course, you know, there’s an enforcement fra-fraction to that, you know, layers over it. Most of it is, is trying to get compliance. And I think largely, haven’t been a stick and carrot kind of approach in Maine. I think we have the business community, regulated community, I think largely shares the goals that have been established through the legislature and to work to be in compliance with those.

I mean, they’re going back thinking to years ago when I was in school, I had a professor who talked about, you know, kind of a rigid triangle between government, business, and the environmental NGOs, you know, advocates and how there’s this kind of rigid dynamic where, you know, the advocates and business try to influence government, which is, you know, the third layer of the triangle. And, but it’s all, they’re all connected. Try to change the triangle, and you change the sides on triangles, pretty difficult. And that was something, you know, I kind of had to grasp about how you, how government kind of develops these standards and then enforces the standards to the satisfaction of these other two pieces of the triangle.

[00:19:47] Eric Miller: Yeah, it’s fascinating taking the, it’s not as simple as some folks going out and, and measuring dissolved oxygen or temperature. There’s so much more to it than just that, there’s moving parts, various organizations, various priorities to, to balance. Rebecca, you mentioned. The, uh, paper that you and David were, uh, writers on, and so would you all be able to speak to the methods of managing Maine’s waterways and how they developed over the past 70 years, because Maine was ahead of the curve of, of as it came 20 years before the federal Clean Water Act, they were establishing standards prior to federal action.

[00:20:27] David Courtemanch: Yeah, it was a long kind of protracted process.

As Becky said, there was, uh, there was a lot of, um, interest, public interest, whatever, you know, reading up to the Clean Water Act. It wasn’t just something that happened in 1972 when, you know, we switched from being disinterested in water quality to being, you know, fully interested in water quality. A lot of work was done during that time. There was the balance of power you might say between the environmental, the regulated side, business community, and it did. And I, I think a key part of that was when, uh, Senator Muskie, you know, put this bill there was a section in that, you know, they changed the way enforcement happened. Uh, before that you had to prove that, you know, uh, you know, a particular discharger was affecting the water quality standards and, you know, you would, it was on a very, uh, ad hoc way of dealing with one discharger at a time.

When the Clean Water Act came into play, it looked at all classes of dischargers and everybody had to do the same, so you took away a large part of the debate about who was responsible. And just said, you know, okay, as a, as a nation, you know, all these different types of dischargers who are going to have to perform equally.

And that was, I think, uh, just a huge step in moving everything forward. Everybody had to do something. And then over time, you know, we found that, yeah, there were facilities with, you know, if they only met the technology prescribed in the Clean Water Act, that it wasn’t good enough to meet the goal. Well, and then you would move on to some more advanced treatment, but that first step of technology based licensing and performance was a great move forward. We wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for that.

[00:22:25] Eric Miller: Oh, it’s nice to see Maine at the, at the forefront. Uh, all right. That’s great. Uh, Chris, I’m glad we have a Ohio connection in the lead up to the Clean Water Act.

There are some significant events that went on in that state that lead to the Clean Water Act, but you alluded to this before in your previous answer about old methods of assessing water quality and managing. So could you speak to some of that as well and some and comment on the methods of managing water quality?

[00:22:58] Chris Yoder: Yeah, well, there, there’s been a federal Water Pollution Control Act since 1948. The one that we just celebrated last, you know, coming up on a year ago, for the anniversary, that was passed in 1972. And then between 1948 and 1972, there are at least two, maybe three major revisions of that act, but it wasn’t until 1972 that it really forced action in terms of reducing pollution. Up until that time, it was a paper, paper tiger, I guess you would call it, and totally left in the hands of the state.

At that time, there was very strong sentiment that, hey, you know, something has to be done about the gross pollution. You could see it, smell it, taste it. I mean, it was, everybody agreed something needed to be done. As far as, uh, where we, where we are today, we’re a little bit of a victim of that success because you don’t see pollution.

A lot of what’s remaining is invisible to the public, and it’s only visible to us scientists who actually go out and measure it. And that’s if we measure for the right things. Again, I also mentioned 1972 gave the states forcing them to do more with their water quality standards, which through that time was an evolutionary process.

So, at the beginning, we were just measuring common chemicals that were pollutants, some of which were toxic, some of which were depleting oxygen, things like that. And that evolved all the way up to using biological indicators, which were a much more direct measurement of the sum total of pollution. A lot of which we weren’t measuring with individual chemicals. So that was a big advancement through that time period and most states do it but the problem is most states have limited programs compared to states like Maine, Ohio, Vermont. Uh, there’s a couple others out there who have adopted that approach, but I think EPA has had a very tepid oversight of that aspect compared to what they’ve had on things like permits, and the essential ingredients of water quality standards, which is aquatic life, water supply, recreation in and on the water, and human and wildlife protection. But beyond that, there really is a lot of variation in how sophisticated state programs really are and their ability to actually measure it and so on so we’ve, you know, after 50 years, we’re still lagging badly in that area. And that’s where you do see articles from people saying that, you know, we need to get with it on modernizing the implementation of the Clean Water Act. At the same time, though, the political climate is entirely different. Now, in the 1970s, the states couldn’t get out of their own way fast enough passing water pollution control laws and demanding very stringent responses to this law. As far as today, we’re seeing in some states a deliberate effort to undermine the Clean Water Act. Maine is not one of those states, so it’s not visible probably to people who live in Maine, but it’s certainly visible to me being in the Midwest U. S. and seeing it not only in Ohio, but in our neighboring states.

Seems to be a general lack of awareness of the seriousness of that issue. In some cases, states have actually put administrators in place. That’s their mission is to blunt the affecting this environmental laws. So, and I go through that in the article, and I cited a couple of examples of that.

[00:26:30] Eric Miller: Yeah, I mean, I never lived through, uh, as poor water quality as the 1950s, 60s, and of course, many people who have, out of sight, out of mind.

Um, and it’s hard to know how bad it can be and so definitely something that will be worth paying attention to going forward. Brian, do you have, yeah, Brian, if you would want to chip in on.

[00:26:58] Brian Kavanah: I think it’s an interesting question, you know, know, what’s changed in the last 70 years in terms of management. I think what stayed pretty much the same is we have this really firm foundation of the classification system that is really, you know, the ground we stand on.

It’s evolved and changed a little bit over time, but that’s our strong foundation. That’s kind of stayed the same. But I was thinking about what’s changed in terms of technology and tools. And, you know, something I think we just take for granted is, you know. I think probably most of us started before there was computers, right?

I started in 88, the DEP, and there was no computers. We had a typing pool. We might’ve had one fax machine and we might’ve had a Xerox machine and that was our technology. And now, you know, with computers and the Internet, we can share information. We can access research, we can analyze data in all sorts of ways, we can run computer models. We have data signs, we can go out and get continuous monitoring data and bring that back and download that. And it’s just a tremendous change that we’ve taken for granted. And it’s, you know, within our span of our careers that that’s happened. So that’s, that’s interesting, and I think also we’re using, uh, probably more fish tissue analysis, you know, Maine kind of pioneered back when dioxin was an issue, the above and below test of measuring dioxin levels in fish, and Governor King at the time said, you know, the fish below the mill need to be just as clean or as high quality as the fish above the mill. And you know, that was interesting to use that as a biological indicator and we talked about the bio criteria that we use and, uh, wet testing has evolved for toxicity using fish and, uh, other organisms to determine whether or not a discharge is, is potentially toxic.

And we used an interesting tool of aerial surveys back in the two thousands or early two thousands when we were working on Gulf Island Pond and the Androscoggin River, we’d go up and fly that uh, throughout the summer to look for algal blooms and you can determine a lot from the air. So that that was that was interesting and that was a very useful tool. So it’s interesting, you know, the things that have stayed the same in terms of the foundation we stand on, but technology has evolved and we’ve tried different tools over over the years to get a better handle on things.

[00:29:05] Eric Miller: Yeah, it is incredible how computer programs and statistical models and just the capability of sensors have changed how we go about our business.

And so looking at when the Clean Water Act was passed. And so some of the challenges and success has been alluded to by you all. Chris, would you want speak to some of the, uh, challenges and successes of the Clean Water Act. And then for the, uh, the whole group, what does the future of the Act and Maine’s water quality look like?

[00:29:39] Chris Yoder: Yeah, we’ve all established that the Clean Water Act has been effective at cleaning up what I would say the pollution sources of the 70s and before that. But our, we have a very chemically dependent society, and today, and I just saw a paper by USGS where they, in their National Urban Stream Study, they detected 500 different chemicals and 438 of those were organic or degradates of organic chemicals. I would say, in the most intensive sampling surveys that I am involved in currently, we might be measuring 160 different chemicals. And the other kind of shocking footnote to that is that there are 350,000 synthetic chemicals in existence. PFAS, the whole PFAS, PFO family of chemicals is out there, that’s part of that.

But there’s, there’s a lot more to that, so it increases the challenges we face of preserving the gains made over the past 50 years. I hate to say it, but you’re going to see the same states who’ve been leaders all along taking it seriously and trying to make an effort. To deal with these new age, new generation pollutants.

Unfortunately, you’re going to see the majority of states being drug along and only doing it because it’s required by U.S. EPA. It’s a big challenge, you know, the work’s not over by, by a long shot and we, we really have to adapt to that.

[00:31:10] Eric Miller: Thank you for that, that background. Becky, when looking at your, from like a research perspective and working with citizen science, what is, what are some of the successes in water quality improvements and what are some of the challenges looking forward? I imagine they overlap quite a bit with what, what Chris said.

[00:31:30] Rebecca Schaffner: Yeah, so, uh, when the Clean Water Act was first enacted, um, there were a lot of, you know, sort of big issues that were low hanging fruit that that could be kind of attacked right away. Um, the discharge of wastewater and since that is kind of gone by the wayside, it’s just um, we’re seeing more smaller, um, but persistent issues like legacy, contaminants and sediments. Uh, non-point source contaminants and chemicals of emerging concern like PFAS and then of course climate change impacts, which impacts everything. It’s, that’s going to, I don’t know. I think that’s going to almost swamp a lot of the other issues we’re seeing.

Introduce species, toxic algal blooms, there’s, you know, there’s, there’s so many things that need to be addressed. I think Maine is fairly adaptive in, in terms of changing standards and creating legislation to address these things, but there’s always a lag. I think as far as citizen involvement, again, there, there are programs that DEP kind of assists with that help educate and provide sort of intervention like the lake smart program. It helps homeowners to know best ways to treat their property or develop their property so that protects water quality there. I mentioned the courtesy boat inspection program. I don’t know that that’s a lot to a lot to go into right now, but.

[00:32:52] Eric Miller: Yeah, each, each one of those challenges warrant a podcast episode of themselves and, uh, since a lot of those challenges would require being quite proactive, it’s difficult to, um, get legislative action to be, um, not just reactive, kind of like how things need to get so bad and get, then all of a sudden the Clean Water Act has, has teeth and then major improvements can be made.

Brian, is there anything that you’d like to mention regarding, uh, some of the challenges and successes of the Clean Water Act and the future of Maine’s water quality?

[00:33:28] Brian Kavanah: I’ll focus on just one issue that I deal with quite a lot. It’s both a great success and a challenge, ongoing challenge, and that’s, uh, our wastewater infrastructure. You know, the Clean Water Act really was the focus of, uh, it’s really what started the building of most of the wastewater treatment plants in Maine through requiring it and funding it.

And so that’s been a tremendous success in Maine. We’ve got 150 municipal and quasi-municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Maine that have really helped transform our waters from you know, what were open sewers in some cases to the great resources we have today and kudos to the people who work in that profession, the professional certified operators, they do a great job.

So that’s been a great success. The challenge is that’s essential infrastructure that has to be maintained in perpetuity forever, right? It’s the infrastructure nobody ever thinks about. It’s roads and bridges. People think about that wastewater treatment plants tucked away in the corner of your town, most people don’t think about that. So it’s important that, you know, as a society, we always have a mechanism to adequately fund those in Maine. We’ve got about 2 billion dollars of no need over the next 10 years or so for our existing infrastructure, the treatment plants, sewer systems, pump stations to make sure that they function appropriately.

And so there’s some federal money for that. There’s some state money for that, but there’s always a gap. So, that’s always going to be an ongoing challenge to make sure we can fund that infrastructure forever. And the other thing is that there’s, you know, emerging challenges or issues that will probably lead to additional cost increases, the treatment of nutrients, phosphorus and fresh water and nitrogen and marine waters.

Some facilities will likely need additional treatment for that. The facilities are not designed to treat those things. So that’s a whole nother type of process. Generally, it has to be added where needed. And then the big unknown of PFAS and an effluent, EPA is developing water quality standards for that, and that will determine whether or not facilities need to treat for that.

And that’s a whole another type of treatment, specialized treatment that would potentially be extremely expensive. So we all have to keep our eyes open for how do we fund that on going into the future?

[00:35:38] Eric Miller: Yeah, it’s encouraging that there’s been, there’s an increase in some federal funds for addressing some wastewater infrastructure needs, but there’s definitely a ways to go in terms of addressing other challenges, new challenges on the horizon.

David, do you have anything you’d like to add in terms of the challenges and successes of the Clean Water Act and Maine’s water quality, uh, looking forward?

[00:36:06] David Courtemanch: From the successes, I mean, I think, um, people can see success. And, uh, know of success that has happened, you know, in the past 50 years. The challenge though, and I think, uh, Chris pointed to this, is that, um, it’s like we’re peeling an onion.

And, you know, the first couple layers come off pretty easily. You know, we dealt with oxygen and we dealt with solids and turbidity and all those sorts of things, you know, bacteria. And then as we drill down in there, you know, there’s the legacy pollutants, you know, things like pesticides, DDT and things that were banned 50 years ago, but we still have them.

We just keep, as we peel the onion, uh, we’re finding so much more. I think the PFAS issue is particularly difficult in that, you know, it’s not only how do you get rid of the substance either at the product end or in the treatment area, but also it affects things like sludge management. You know, we create a lot of sludge, which could be a very good soil amendment, but because it’s contaminated with PFAS, we can’t use it that way.

So the challenges just seem to never go away. In fact, we seem to multiply it with time, uh, as we fix one, we realize that, you know, if we peel deeper into the onion, there’s so many more layers.

[00:37:40] Eric Miller: If only we could just fix things and they stay fixed and things, uh, some of these problems weren’t so wicked in their complexity.

If a listener is feeling compelled to act and contribute to improving Maine’s water quality. There are opportunities for public participation in water quality management. Uh, Brian, would you like to touch on some of those?

[00:38:03] Brian Kavanah: Sure. Uh, there’s lots of opportunities, as you said, you know, it’s a big part of the Clean Water Act is public process. And so one of the things we do is we license discharges to waters of the state under the Clean Water Act and state water quality law. And so that dictates what can be discharged and in what amounts. And that’s a public process, that licensing process. You know, when the application is submitted, that has to be public notice, uh, abutters need to be notified. There’s an opportunity for public comment on the application and the draft licenses and all the licenses that we issue are appealable to the Board of Environmental Protection, Maine Citizens Board, and ultimately to court. So, there’s a lot of public process involved in that. Whenever water quality standards are developed through law at the legislature or rulemaking by the Board of Environmental Protection, there’s opportunities for public comment on on the draft rules in front of the board, and, and a public hearing, usually. And when the legislature is conducting that process is public here in front of the legislature. So there’s this public process there. We do a triennial review, ideally every 3 years, which looks at our existing water quality standards and that’s an opportunity for the public to comment on ideas for new standards or changes to standards or upgrades to water bodies in terms of their classification.

And there’s a couple of rounds of public comment involved with that and also public hearings in front of the board and ultimately, uh, public hearing when it’s adopted by the legislature. Same thing with our integrated biennial water quality report. That gets published and there’s a public comment period on that.

And there’s other ways for people to get involved. That’s the public process piece, but people can get their hands dirty, so to speak, and go out and participate in our volunteer river monitoring program, or the volunteer lakes monitoring program, or volunteer for their local lake association, or support any of the NGOs in Maine that work for water quality.

So there’s plenty of ways for people to get involved.

[00:40:02] Eric Miller: Uh, that’s great. Becky, as you have worked with citizen science, are there any other types of resources that people can go to online or organizations specifically that you would like to share?

[00:40:15] Rebecca Schaffner: There’s so many, um. Uh, I’ve been working a great deal with some of the lake organizations, Lake Environmental Association.

There’s so many out there, and there’s a, it used to be on the DEP website, uh, um, in the news section, but we put together a story map about Maine lakes and their water quality. I don’t know if that’s still up or not, but we also have a story map going into the water classification changes over the past 50 years, and that’s got a lot of interesting case studies about waters of the state that have been improved as a result, direct result of Maine legislation or the Clean Water Act.

[00:40:53] Eric Miller: Wonderful resources online. Uh, so to close things out, is there anything else that you all would like to share about? The Clean Water Act, its significance, or what specifically of Maine’s water quality management that is hopeful, encouraging, or that folks should remain engaged with in the future. Becky, we’ll start with you for some of your thoughts.

[00:41:16] Rebecca Schaffner: So I’m about the same age as the Clean Water Act. Um, and so I think I really benefited, um, without realizing it from, you know, from its effects over, over time. And, um, I’m, I’m very curious to see going forward. I don’t expect I’ll see another 50 years of it, but that would be nice. Um. But, you know, seeing what happens over the next few decades and how the state and how the country can adapt to some of the changes that we’ve mentioned, uh, the new issues that we’ve mentioned. One thing I’ll just throw out there that I’m kind of interested in is new technology with like rapid responses so EDNA environmental DNA sampling, um, bacterial source monitoring that give you a better idea of exactly what’s out in the environment and give you faster, um, faster results and enable faster response to some of these problems.

[00:42:11] Eric Miller: Yeah that’ll be great looking forward in terms of surveillance and interesting studies to come out of using that new technology.

Chris, do you have anything you’d like to share as we close?

[00:42:22] Chris Yoder: Yeah, I think one, one of the, uh, just give some context to this. Dave and I go back to the early 70s. We actually witnessed the 1972 Clean, Clean Water Act coming about and also experience developing the water quality programs, permitting programs, et cetera, through today, and we’re not the only two but there were across the nation, thousands of people who did that. And I don’t 1, I don’t want to forget the people on the other side of the government ledger are the entities that actually had to implement installing the treatment and the management practices. Those people in those industries, municipalities are an equally important partner.

My concern is that there’s a lot of institutional knowledge in that, and, uh, I have a little piece in my article about not preserving or documenting and especially transferring that institutional knowledge to the current generation of regulators and also industry and municipality people who have to implement all this.

And that’s not being done very effectively in my view. So that that is another area that we need to really catch up on and not doing this makes us very vulnerable to revisionist history about the Clean Water Act. That’s my parting plea is to make sure that we, we do that adequately while those of who actually witnessed this are still around to produce it.

[00:43:54] Eric Miller: What, um, I’ve noticed that, um, is encouraging in that, in that way is, uh, there’s been a lot of youthful energy around environmental stewardship, and, uh, I hope some of them, uh, decide to go into, um water quality management and fisheries. Uh, David, do you have any parting thoughts that you’d like to bring up.

[00:44:19] David Courtemanch: What a number of you that is, you know, making some pretty good points.

Uh, in terms of water quality management, uh, I think we are, um, one of the leading states, uh, and I think, I think you mentioned, Eric, you know, the environmental ethic that Maine seems to have, I think, it’s a powerful tool that we need to kind of nurture. You know, that we, you know, don’t get complacent, that we don’t, that we build on that environmental ethic and, you know, continue to peel away both layers of the onion because the job’s not done yet.

Um, there’s a lot more to do. Plenty of career opportunity out there for professionals coming along, um, to find, uh, new problems to solve and so forth. But, um, I do think Maine’s in a pretty good place.

[00:45:10] Eric Miller: That’s, uh, great news for, for us, uh, in Maine. Uh, Brian, we’ll close out with you.

[00:45:20] Brian Kavanah: I just think it’s been important and a good thing to reflect over the last year on the Clean Water Act, the 50th anniversary and, and the legacy of Edmund Muskie and, and, and all of the work done by so many other people and entities we discussed today.

I think it’s easy to get discouraged about government sometimes. But, you know, I think the Clean Water Act is really a great example of how thoughtful legislation can solve real world problems. And, uh, you know, Maine is better for it and it’s, I think it’s a great thing to reflect on and celebrate and more work to do. There’s always going to be more work to do.

[00:45:55] Eric Miller: Absolutely more work to do. And we hope with this conversation in this podcast that we can contribute to the conversation and energizing action and involvement from folks around the state to be engaged and knowledgeable of the, um trends and, um, policy discourse that’s going on around the state.

And so with that, thank you all very much for joining us today. We’re very grateful for your perspectives on the Clean Water Act and the history of Maine’s water.

And that wraps up this episode of Maine Policy Matters. Thank you for joining us. This is Eric Miller. I’ll see you next time on Maine Policy Matters, where we’ll be interviewing Caroline Noblet Jean McRae, Dianne Kopec and Caleb Goossen on the topic of PFAS. Our team is made up of Barbara Harrity Joyce Rumery coeditors of Maine Policy Review. Jonathan Rubin directs the Policy Center. Thanks to faculty associate Katie Swacha professional writing consultant, Maine Policy Matters intern, Nicole LeBlanc, and podcast producer and writer Jayson Heim.

Our website can be found in the description of this episode, along with all materials referenced in this episode, a full transcript, and social media links. Remember to follow the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on Facebook, Instagram, and Threads, and drop us a direct message to express your support provide feedback, or let us know what Maine policy matters to you. Check out mcslibrary.org to learn more about Margaret Chase Smith, library and museum, and education and public policy.