Voters will decide June 8 whether the state should borrow $10.25 million to upgrade water infrastructure and improve water quality. The bond would be matched with $33.25 million in federal and private funds.

If approved, Question 5 would replenish two funds that lend money to communities and water districts on a revolving basis; as the loan is repaid with interest, the money is lent again.

The Safe Drinking Water Revolving Loan Fund would receive $3.4 million that is needed to secure $17 million in federal money over the next two years.

There are more than 20 projects awaiting funding, according to Nancy Beardsley, director of the Division of Environmental Health at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the fund.

The highest-priority projects are those that address a public health risk, she said, such as the presence of contaminants in the water.

Many areas of Maine have relatively high concentrations of natural arsenic and uranium in their water, Beardsley said, noting the federal government has installed new safety limits for these chemicals in the past several years.

The department received requests to fund projects that would cost $42 million this year, and anticipates being able to spend only $18 million if the bond package is approved.

“We have more projects each year than we have money available,” said Beardsley.

Question 5 also includes $3 million that would bring in an additional $15 million in federal money for the Wastewater Treatment Facility State Revolving Loan Fund.

Municipalities can borrow money from this to upgrade their sewer systems and eliminate combined sewer and storm-water overflow systems present in larger communities. This fund has been in place for 20 years and has loaned out over $500 million.

“We need to have federal money continue to flow into the fund to keep it going,” said Stephen McLaughlin, engineering manager for the Bureau of Land and Water Quality at the Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the wastewater fund. “Currently, we have documented wastewater needs of another $500 million within the next five years that need to be dealt with.”

If Question 5 is approved, $1 million will help towns without sewer systems work with small businesses and homeowners to build septic systems, cleaning up cesspools and straight pipes that dump sewage into streams.

Another $600,000 would go toward eliminating overboard discharge systems that, even when working properly, require the banning of shellfish harvesting in anticipation of system failure.

In addition, $750,000 would go to investigate and clean up areas of hazardous contamination, and $600,000 more would be used to make grants that would enable poorer communities to build sewerage systems. This program would bring in a match of $900,000 in other funds.

Another $1 million would go to help farmers build irrigation ponds and wells to ease weather-related risk and reduce the environmental impact of pumping water from rivers. In the past decade, this program has protected 9,000 acres of crops worth $21 million, according to Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Ned Porter.

Democrats generally support the bond package, saying investing in Maine’s infrastructure will pay dividends by creating jobs and preparing the state for the future.

Sen. Minority Leader Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said he expects voters to be more selective about bonds this year because of the economy and what he considers to be excessive borrowing.

“Many issues that in past years could have sailed to passage are going to be rough sledding,” he said.


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