February 28, 2013

Maine Voices: Maine Water Co. appreciates state's reverence for a critical resource

The company praises the foresight four decades ago that helped preserve the Saco River watershed.

By Eric Thornburgh

The Biddeford and Saco Water Co. recently joined with Maine Water, combining organizations and employees who share a rich history of service in the water industry. As we began this venture, we had discussions with many public officials about providing quality drinking water and protecting the environment, issues that concern people throughout Maine.

Biddeford and Saco delivers clean drinking water to customers in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough. As part of Maine Water, the company will have the necessary financial resources to invest prudently in infrastructure. We can now share staff, resources and best practices to provide reliable, cost effective services.

Our goal is to work with municipal leaders to provide a robust water infrastructure that supports public health, fire protection and economic development.

Maine Water believes it is critically important to be a good steward of the environment, protecting natural resources and preserving company-owned lands for open space. That's why we work with communities and local land conservation organizations to secure lands for watershed protection.

In the past year, for example, Maine Water worked with the Coastal Mountains Land Trust and the Georges River Land Trust to buy 200 acres of land on Ragged Mountain, thus protecting the watershed of the public water supply and providing recreation opportunities for residents.

We plan similar land conservation initiatives in our southern Maine service areas.

We have already contacted the Saco Valley Land Trust and the City of Biddeford's Conservation Commission to see how we can mirror what we achieved in the midcoast region.

By working with these conservation groups, we hope to put permanent protections in place so that land the water company owns on the Saco River and in the river's watershed will remain undeveloped, protecting a major source of clean drinking water.

The Maine Legislature devised an important tool to further the state's water resource goals when it created the Saco River Corridor Commission almost four decades ago, in 1973. As someone "from away," I can't help but marvel at this model legislation, which clearly distinguishes Maine as a national leader in water resource protection.

Learning about the commission, I was impressed with the high value that legislators obviously placed on the security of this vital resource, reflecting a concern of the citizens they represent.

The Saco River Corridor Commission (srcc-maine.org) protects public health, safety, and quality of life. It regulates land and water uses, protects the region's unique and exceptional natural resources, and prevents negative impacts caused by incompatible development.

Maine's foresight certainly paid dividends for the Saco River.

The majority of the river's 1,600-square-mile watershed remains undeveloped or underdeveloped. Therefore, the Saco River is one of the cleanest major rivers in New England.

Can you imagine, over the last four decades, how many thousands of gallons of gasoline, motor oil, fertilizer and other pollutants have been prevented from flowing into the river by having a natural buffer in place, thus protecting the quality of drinking water for tens of thousands of people?

The Saco River Corridor Commission is a major reason why "The Saco" is so clean. It's also why the public water supply in the Saco Bay region, with which I am proud to be associated, has won so many awards for water quality over the years.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Saco River Corridor Commission, and the sparkling clean Saco River is an A+ on the report card for the Maine Legislature. As someone who cares deeply about clean drinking water, I admire that achievement.

Thinking about future generations doesn't happen automatically. I suggest that the Legislature's formation of the Saco River Corridor Commission in 1973 reflected the passion Maine people have for good water quality, and the need to protect it.

Maine Water's resource protection values are in harmony with the legacy that the Legislature put into place. Our plan to invest in infrastructure throughout the communities we serve in Maine has a similar motivation. We want to make sure water systems are maintained and always available for future generations.

As we plan for the future, we want to be just as wise as the Legislature was when it created the commission in 1973. Foresight is important. Especially when it comes to clean drinking water for the people of Maine.

Eric Thornburgh is the president and CEO of Connecticut Water Service Inc., parent company of Maine Water.

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