Greater Augusta Utility District and Winthrop Utilities District officials are considering forming a regional water advisory council.

The proposed new Central Maine Water Council could help the two utility districts deal with areas where they have some overlap with each other, advocates for forming the new joint group say. That’s particularly true of the Carleton Pond watershed, which is in Winthrop, flows into Narrows Pond and is the Winthrop Utilities District’s water source. It’s also where the Greater Augusta Utility District has a mothballed water treatment plant that once treated drinking water pulled from Carleton Pond and sent it to Augusta.

Kirsten Hebert, executive director of Maine Rural Water Association and a voting member of the Greater Augusta Utility District board of trustees, said the two utilities already communicate and work with each other, especially having the Carleton Pond watershed in common. She said forming a regional advisory group could further that relationship, result in better-informed decisions, and potentially result in savings if the districts combine their efforts and leverage their combined buying power.

She said the council could coordinate timber harvesting within the watershed, make water source protection plans together, or have watershed protection studies done for both districts rather than both districts having their own, separate studies done.

“They have a shared common watershed, and they’re both doing activities, such as timber harvesting, in the watershed,” Hebert said. “And there are other activities they’re doing singularly now, they could perhaps do together. There are opportunities that might benefit the ratepayers of both districts.”

The consideration of forming the regional water advisory council was prompted by a request, a couple of years ago, from a local snowmobile club for access to Carleton Pond, which is gated off by Greater Augusta Utility District and largely blocked to access by the public.

Carleton Pond, in Winthrop, was Greater Augusta Utility District’s primary source of water from the early 1990s until 2004, when the district switched to three wells near Bond Brook in Augusta. The plant was mothballed after district officials estimated they could meet the district’s water needs with wells instead of the more costly-to-treat surface water and save about $400,000 a year, according to Brian Tarbuck, superintendent of the Augusta-based district. The plant has remained closed since 2004. But Carleton Pond could, with some effort to restart the plant, be a backup water source for Greater Augusta Utility District.

Hebert said the proposed new regional water advisory council could be a good entity to review the idea of opening up access to Carleton Pond and set rules and regulations so it can be done safely and in the interest of both districts.

“If there were opportunity to open up the watershed for recreational use, (the council could help prepare) rules and regulations that would allow access to this beautiful watershed,” she said. “It is a beautiful water body that, right now, has very limited access. If you have two utilities that are sharing the watershed be able to collaborate and produce a uniform set of rules and regulations, it could help put people at ease that it was not just something done haphazardly.”

 


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