Senator Hamper, Representative Gattine, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, my name is Pete Didisheim. I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I appreciate this opportunity to testify on behalf of our 20,000 members and supporters in support of LD 1510, which would create jobs and improve water quality across Maine with $50 million for clean water infrastructure.
Maine’s economy depends on clean water. Our lakes generate at least $3.5 billion in economic activity annually and help sustain 52,000 jobs. More than 650,000 Mainers depend on clean lakes for their drinking water. Maine’s fishing industry reported landings in 2016 worth $720 million. The lobster fishery alone reported a dockside value of $533 million, which amounts to $1.7 billion total economic impact for the state. Maine’s aquaculture sector provided $73 million in direct economic impact for the state in 2016, and an estimated 12 million people visit Maine’s beaches each year, contributing more than $1.6 billion annually to Maine’s economy. Clean and healthy water is critical for all of these activities, and more.
Maine has come a long way over the past 50 years in cleaning up our inland and coastal waters. Through strong, bipartisan policies and investments, we have drastically reduced direct discharges of pollution to rivers, lakes, streams, and the ocean. But we still have plenty of work to do.
Maine communities continue to depend on outdated pipes and components in their wastewater systems that, in some cases, are more than a century old. In 2016, twenty-five communities discharged more than 470 million gallons of untreated stormwater and sewage into our waters because of outdated combined sewer overflows. Affected waters included Casco Bay and Frenchman Bay and the Androscoggin, Kennebec, Machias, St. Croix, and Saco Rivers.
Some communities have drastically reduced, or even eliminated, the discharge of untreated sewage during storm events. But Maine still has a $1 billion backlog of known wastewater upgrade projects, spanning 120 communities. These projects need steady attention and investment, and that’s what LD 1510 is all about. The $50 million provided by this will help fund approximately three years of DEP’s 10-year wastewater infrastructure plan.
In the same fashion that Maine citizens support highway and construction bonds as investments in our aging roadways, they also strongly support bonds for clean water infrastructure. From 1992 through 2010, the Legislature sent to the voters 15 bonds with funding for clean water projects like the ones that would be addressed by LD 1510. The majority of these measures were enacted with well over 60% of the vote. But no new funding has been provided for the past seven years
We believe the time has come to get back on track with investments that help continue the state’s progress in reducing direct discharge of sewage and untreated pollution to our waterways. We strongly support the DEP’s request, which is projected to create or sustain more than 2,000 jobs, and leverage more than $70 million in additional funds (for a total of $121,475,000 in bond and leveraged funding).
We support the bond’s focus areas of $47.65 million for wastewater treatment facility planning and construction grants; $2 million for grants to towns to help replace malfunctioning septic systems; and $350,000 to assist homeowners with substandard or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems.
We have three suggested amendments for your consideration.
First regards the wording of the question as it would appear on the ballot. We suggest that the question be revised to read:
Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to ensure clean water and safe communities across Maine; to protect rivers, lakes, streams, coastal waters, and shellfish areas; and to create jobs and infrastructure that reduces water pollution through total bond and leveraged funds of approximately $121,475,000?
This wording would provide voters with a fuller and more accurate understanding of the purpose and value of the bond measure.
Second, we note that the wording for each of the three categories of funding states that the funds shall be available in relation to “coastal watersheds.” This language could prevent funding from being available for dozens of inland communities not directly on the coast. We suggest the wording be revised to be inclusive of projects statewide that may be a priority for attention.
And third, we request that the Committee consider adding the $5 million clean water bond provided by another bill, “An Act to Authorize a General Bond Issue to Provide Jobs, Improve Road Infrastructure, and Protect Water Resources” (LD 178), into a single $55 million bond that would be sent to the public. LD 178 provides much needed funding to reduce nutrient pollution to Maine’s lakes. Combined, these two bills would address a complementary set of high priority water quality needs. LD 1510 is focused on point source discharges mostly in coastal areas and in communities along our rivers, and LD 178 addresses non-point sources of pollution in more rural communities located on lakes that are at risk of impairment.
In closing, it is clear to us that Maine voters strongly support clean water. Our rivers, lakes, streams, and coastal waters are vital to everything about living and working in Maine. We are confident that they will support these measures (LD 1510 and LD 178) to reduce pollution, create jobs, and sustain segments of Maine’s economy and quality of life that depend on clean water.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments, and would be glad to answer any questions you may have.