Given the wide range of weather/climate disruptions witnessed during past decades – e.g., severe droughts on the West Coast/middle America, some concomitant with raging wild fires, torrential rains and 100- and 500-year flood events, record-setting heat waves, more numerous/ stronger hurricanes and tornadoes, enhanced melting of polar ice caps – it is now evident that global warming/climate change are no longer academic oddities, but forces to be understood and be prepared for.

With specific reference to Maine, the two major weather conditions impacted would be the prevalence of more severe storms (due to enhanced ocean temperatures) and increased periods of drought (alterations in wind, moisture and heat-cold patterns).

Some local, state and federal preparation/remediation schemes have been introduced, predominately focused on greenhouse gas(es) reduction, mainly responsible for global warming. Some examples include: increased use of electric vehicles, installation of wind/solar farms, thermal energy production, creation of efficient gasoline-fueled engines, reduction of coal-fired plants and homes with energy-saving features. Concerning severe/prolonged droughts, the major contingency option is reducing overall water utilization by restricting amounts of water drawn from rivers, dams and reservoirs, and by limiting construction of single-family homes and commercial buildings.

In Maine, especially at the local level, municipalities must shrewdly balance the receipt/enhancement of revenues required to maintain their operational responsibilities, with those means needed to safeguard the health and safety of their residents. The ability to adequately provide for this balance has been challenged by the onset of global warming and climate change. Specifically, in small towns where residents depend solely on well water, climate change, associated with increasing episodes of drought, is raising concerns about this precarious balance between revenue/tax generation and ensuring adequate quantities of potable well water.

In some townships, the question of whether this “precarious balance” has been “tilted” toward more single-family construction at the expense of adequate well-water supplies is being raised by residents, asking if different entities are interrelated: the number of wells planned within the same area, the number of permits granted for new single-family homes over a 10-year period (Is the number of permits granted increasing year-over-year?) and the number of periods of drought that have occurred over the past 15 years. These entities are interrelated, but how?

In combination, these entities focus on the same basic question: What is the overall maximum/total number of wells that can be permitted within any township which, said number in turn, would safeguard the provision of adequate amounts of potable water for all residents during future potential periods of drought? The first step in answering this question would be collecting reliable information from local, state and federal agencies tasked with evaluating/determining quantities of underground water in Maine, and combining the data with predictions of future drought patterns. Once assembled, step two draws upon these facts to underwrite appropriate statutes, limiting the number of wells permitted within defined areas suitable for single-family housing.

In townships dependent either partially or wholly on well water, are measures presently under consideration to address the vital question posed above? If not, this would constitute a dereliction of duty by township officials. With the high probability of severe vacillations in future weather patterns, town officials must adopt regulations now to mitigate against the possibility of widespread water shortages caused by global warming and climate change. Generating acceptable levels of funds/revenue, without safeguarding adequate amounts of well water for residents, is not a suitable or responsible management model for townships to adopt.

Dr. John M. Mishler is a former professor of Basic Life Sciences, Medicine and Pharmacology, and associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Missouri. Sigrid R.E. Fischer-Mishler is a former X-ray/medical technologist. The couple lives in Harpswell. 

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