The Legislature has an opportunity to protect the sources of drinking water and preserve jobs.
By Chip Laite
Portland Press Herald op-ed
CAMDEN — With temperatures beginning to rise, snow finally disappearing and a significant rainstorm recently, most Mainers would likely call this the unofficial beginning of “mud season.” For those involved in maintaining clean, safe and cost-effective water systems in our communities, it is a more stressful time of year. The question those folks are asking is: Will snowmelt and spring rain wash out culverts, roads and overflow wastewater into our streams, rivers and coastal waters?
I’m both a Registered Maine Guide and a contractor, and this time of year reminds me that snowmelt and heavy spring rains can create big problems for our roads, stream crossings and wildlife habitats across the state. It also reminds me of the importance that balancing economic development and preserving our natural resources.
It doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that our current water infrastructure is falling behind. Take a short drive down any of Maine’s roads this spring and you will know what I’m talking about. This growing problem is only compounded by the increasing intensity and frequency of today’s storms. In fact, during one 36-hour period recently, we saw more than an inch of rain fall across the state. Combine this with melting snow and many of our streams, rivers and ponds are spilling their banks, causing problems for travelers and public works crews.
Here’s how: Between snowmelt and rainstorms, the heavy flow of water can overload culverts and cause flooding and washouts. At the same time, some of our best natural defenses against big water flows, such as wetlands and floodplains, are in dire need of maintenance and upgrades. Not to mention, our wastewater treatment facilities are at risk of overflowing because we have not upgraded the systems to handle the storm flow. These are all preventable problems, but not without taking action and supporting investment in our built and natural infrastructure.
Clean drinking water and great recreational opportunities make Maine attractive to businesses and to families. Protecting these resources through upgrading and improving of our roads, bridges and culverts is necessary and will create a clear economic benefit for Maine. Preserving the habitat of native brook trout, waterfowl, and other species that drive Maine’s outdoor recreation economy and attract millions of tourists every season is equally important. Mainers cannot afford to take our quality of life for granted and must invest in our built and natural infrastructure. Without well-maintained roads, effective, up-to-date culverts, water and wastewater systems and well-managed wetlands and floodplains, many of the outdoor recreation activities that draw millions to our mountains, lakes and beaches and put food on the tables of the thousands of Mainers employed in the industry could be put in jeopardy.
The Maine Legislature can take action today to address these issues and put Mainers to work. A bill that combines the worlds of jobs, fish and wildlife and flood protection for our communities is being discussed in the halls of the State House in Augusta as I’m writing this article. It’s called the Clean Water and Safe Communities Act (L.D. 1455). This bond proposal provides investment to improve and upgrade culverts, fix storm water problems, restore wetlands and ensure safe drinking water and the protection of fish, game and wildlife habitats across the state.
This bond will benefit Maine in the long run by conserving our natural resources and the recreational activities they provide for, but more immediately it will create well-paying jobs for construction workers, environmental consultants and others who will be hired to address these growing problems.
The Legislature has an opportunity to put Maine out in front of these threats and take a powerful step forward to protect sources of drinking water and preserve jobs in the areas of construction, tourism, fisheries and engineering and conserve recreational fisheries, waterfowl and other important fish and wildlife species habitat. When you think about it, this is a jobs, clean water and wildlife bond that will have an immediate, measurable impact on Maine’s natural resources.
I encourage all of you to reach out to your local legislators and stress the importance of this type of responsible lawmaking – for our communities, our economy, our natural resources and for Maine – the way life should be.
— Special to the Press Herald
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Chip Laite is a Maine Guide and contractor from Camden.