A harbor master boat pulls up near some boaters on Casco Bayin this file photo. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald

“We are water, we are the Bay.” Those are the opening words of local poet Gary Lawless’s poem, “For Casco Bay, for Us.”

Susan Olcott

The poem was written to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the non-profit group Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB) that works to promote healthy water in the bay. It was repeated at a recent FOCB event in celebration of another anniversary – the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

While that might seem like more of a freshwater topic for a column that is focused on salt water, the point of Lawless’s poem is that all of the water and all of us are connected. That means that the impacts of the Clean Water Act are astonishingly far-reaching.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) was established in 1972. It is the backbone of the regulations that determine what pollutants can be legally discharged into U.S. water and for setting standards for water quality. One of the key components of this is that the CWA made it a legal and punishable offense for anyone who does not comply with the standards and restrictions it set.

As a result, agencies like the EPA were able to set wastewater standards and sewage treatment plants were built to clean wastewater before it is discharged. Another key initiative was to look at the impacts of nonpoint source pollution like that from lawn chemicals and pet waste – one of the priorities of Friends of Casco Bay.

The connection between the anniversaries of the Clean Water Act and Friends of Casco Bay is significant and is also a good reminder of the connection between bodies of water, both salty and fresh. While the impacts of the CWA often focused on fresh water where many industrial facilities are located, everything that enters that water eventually ends up along the coast.


This interconnectedness can seem daunting at times because of the great responsibility that we each bear in how broad our impacts can be. But, it is also heartening when you consider the power of people to collectively change a situation.

In the case of the Clean Water Act, things have improved dramatically over the last 50 years. There are rivers that were once severely polluted where people can now swim and go fishing, for example.

Here in Casco Bay, we have groups like Friends of Casco Bay that are keeping a close watch on things like nutrient levels that can cause algal blooms and offering pump-out services to reduce discharge from boats.

Further up the watershed, there are myriad non-profit groups like land trusts and other ENGOs along with citizens’ groups that are working on projects like those to restore fish runs and to encourage responsible landscaping practices by landowners. Because all of this water is connected, there are many people and groups that are able to tackle this problem together.

The 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act is a clear record of the positive impacts that people can have when taking responsibility for their potentially negative impacts on the environment.

Recognizing, as Lawless put it, that “We are water, we are the Bay,” connects us in an active way to where we live. If you want to be involved in any of the community science efforts of the Friends of Casco Bay, you can find out more at www.cascobay.org.

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