For years, Mainers have relied too heavily on trust and too little on smart regulation to protect our water. Sometimes we make mistakes, and our water quality suffers. If we can get water policy right, all of us benefit.

In 2012, developers built a high-density community of homes in Naples. The developers of the project, Walter Hill Estates, assumed that its stormwater runoff posed no threat to the Sebago Lake watershed. That assumption was wrong.

Within a watershed, all water flows toward one destination – in this case, Sebago Lake. Because Walter Hill Estates lacked adequate runoff controls, water from the site, carrying dirt laced with pollutants, made its way into the lake, adding unwanted sediment and chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus to cherished freshwater. Simple and not very costly steps during construction could have put in place adequate stormwater runoff protections and prevented damage to the watershed.

A little background: The Sebago Lake watershed is vitally important for Mainers. It provides drinking water for 200,000 residents – 15 percent of Maine’s population.

Because Sebago Lake is deep and has a great volume of water, it has historically remained pristine. Water districts save lots of money on filtration, a process that many other states couldn’t even consider avoiding. Diminished water quality in Maine would impose on us new, ongoing expenditures of taxpayer and ratepayer money.

Drinking water aside, southern Maine’s economy relies greatly on a clean and healthy Sebago Lake for other reasons. Manufacturers, food producers, craft breweries and health care facilities all know that any decline in water quality raises costs and increases consumer prices.


Clean lake water is also key to vibrant outdoor recreation and tourism in Maine. A recent study in neighboring New Hampshire calculated statewide economic activity from freshwater fishing, swimming and boating to be over $378 million per year. Maine benefits no less from these activities.

Despite the great value of our freshwater, more than half of the streams that crisscross our state, including tributaries feeding Sebago Lake, are not covered under mandatory protections in the Clean Water Act. Instead, owing to a polluter-backed loophole, important environmental protections do not extend to wetlands in danger of development.

Exemptions to the law also allow discharges from mills and sewage plants to flow into freshwater sources. The loophole leaves many rivers and streams vulnerable. All told, insufficiently protected waterways put the drinking water systems for nearly half a million Maine residents at risk.

And that development in Naples? More than three years later, it still lacks any adequate stormwater controls, because of a completely legal loophole regarding changing ownership and extended deadlines. All told, insufficiently protected waterways put the drinking water systems for nearly half a million Maine residents at risk.

At last, in order to preserve the heritage of freshwater, this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finally enacted the Clean Water Rule to close the loopholes and restore protections to close to 25,000 miles (55 percent) of streams across Maine, and nearly 2 million miles of streams across the country. A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, elected officials, small businesses and thousands of Mainers back the EPA initiative, but our water is not safe yet.

Nationally, agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, developers and others who prefer lax water protection are waging a bitter campaign against the Clean Water Rule. Polluters’ allies in the U.S. Senate are trying multiple tactics to block the rule.


The day the rule was finalized in August, a federal court injunction froze its implementation in 13 states. In early October, an Iowa senator introduced a joint resolution to nullify the rule, and more recently a federal appeals court in Ohio issued a nationwide stay on the Clean Water Rule.

The Clean Water Rule has been years in the works, but now it needs to get through the final steps unscathed. If reason and good environmental practice prevail, the rule will be implemented, giving the full protections intended when the Clean Water Act was first passed in 1972 under the guiding hand of Maine Sen. Ed Muskie.

Given continued obstruction by shortsighted vested interests, it’s critical that Mainers who value clean water make their voices heard. This winter, we’ll need U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to continue to side with clean water rather than profit-driven polluters, so that all of Maine’s lakes and streams are protected under the Clean Water Act.

Mainers depend on clean water, so let’s do everything we can to foster a strong local economy and preserve clean, high-quality freshwater.

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