May 23, 2019 (Augusta, ME) — More than 400 miles of Maine’s rivers and streams will receive increased legal protection under a bill (LD 1743) that will receive a public hearing today. Of particular significance, the bill includes critical portions of Maine’s largest river, the Penobscot, and 200 miles of trout streams flowing into Webb Lake by Tumbledown Mountain.
This package of upgrades is long overdue. Although state and federal law requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to propose water quality protection upgrades every three years for state water bodies that either come close to meeting higher levels of water quality or do meet them, this is the first time since 2009 that a proposal like this has been submitted by DEP to the Legislature. All the rivers and streams covered by LD 1743 already meet the higher water quality standards being proposed and reflect years of detailed monitoring.
“This is an exciting and critically important proposal to ensure increased protection for more than 400 miles of Maine’s rivers and streams,” said Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist at the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Passage of this bill will support the fishing and guiding industries, help sea-run fish and other wildlife thrive, and increase property values along these water bodies.”
When a river or stream receives an upgrade, its legal classification, and all of the protections associated with that classification, goes up. Maine’s rivers and streams have four classifications: C, B, A, and AA. AA is the highest.
The DEP proposal will upgrade portions of the Penobscot River from Class C to Class B, including the West Branch from Millinocket to Medway and the main stem from Medway to the confluence with the Mattawamkeag River. It will also require that the main portion below Milford remain free-flowing to lock in the enormous successes gained from the 15-year Penobscot River Restoration Project. The Penobscot Indian Nation strongly supports these upgrades and passage of the bill.
After the Great Works and Veazie Dams were removed and fish passage improved at two others, the Penobscot has seen dramatic recoveries of fish and wildlife, including alewife and shad. Shad are a popular and tasty sportfish, and both fish are a food source for larger groundfish, like cod and halibut, as well as whales, seals, mink, otter, Osprey, eagles, and herons.
“The Penobscot River upgrades would help the ability of the Penobscot Nation to practice sustenance fishing and protect the enormous investment that has been made to restore sea-run fish,” said Bennett.
Fish Stream, which is part of the ecologically significant Crystal Bog complex, a unique natural feature in Maine that supports many rare species of plants and animals would be upgraded from Class B to Class A, and all of the tributaries to Webb Lake, many of which are in the Tumbledown Public Reserved Land and provide excellent brook trout habitat would be upgraded from Class B to Class A as well.
Learn more about the river reclassification bill.