As I looked far down the bay toward the open ocean, it was apparent that a large fog bank was building and the islands were engulfed in it. It would not be a sunny day out there, but here on the Martin’s Point Bridge (Route 1 between Falmouth and Portland), the sky was clear and a warm, sunny day was developing.

From this vantage point you could see that there were many people taking advantage of it. A fisherman paddled about on a kayak fishing with cast lines and another had walked across the mud flats and was far out in the channel fly fishing. On the other side of the bridge teams in rowing boats moved up and down the mouth of the river. On nearby Mackworth Island people could be seen on the beach swimming or just strolling along. I can tell you, from experience, that a short distance up the river many people in West Falmouth are tubing down the Presumpscot River.

It wasn’t always this way. When I was growing up here as a boy in the 1960s and 1970s, the bay at times had a distinct odor to it. No, no, it wasn’t that sweet, wonderful marine smell you sometimes come across near ocean water. You see, if the tide was out and the breeze was blowing in, it smelled something like an open sewer – largely because that’s what it was.

At that time, it was acceptable to simply dump whatever you didn’t want into bodies of water and not worry about it. Untreated human excrement was acceptable. Up the Presumpscot River, industrial plants regularly dumped all kinds of waste into the river. As a boy I can remember large gobs of what appeared to be chemical foam drifting down the Presumpscot. It got so bad that rivers in the Midwest were declared fire hazards because there were so many chemicals in them that authorities feared they would catch fire. Several of them did. As a result of this contamination, there was a lot less going on in the bay then there is today.

It was one of Maine’s own citizens who led the effort to address these problems. Ed Muskie grew up in Rumford and saw firsthand what pollution was doing to the Androscoggin River. From his position as chair of the Air and Water Subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, Muskie ushered in, among other laws, the Clean Water Act. President Richard Nixon called it “extreme and needless overspending” and vetoed the bill. Sen. Muskie kept fighting and an override was achieved the next day. The nation had seen enough. Among other steps, wastewater treatment plants were built around America to begin the cleanup.

The result is that America’s waterways are much cleaner today, but the work of keeping waterways clean goes on. Organizations such as The Friends of Casco Bay keep an eye on what’s happening in the bay and advocate for a healthy harbor. To me it’s clear that President Nixon was wrong – it was actually necessary spending, because I haven’t forgotten what it once was.

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