Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Pete Didisheim, I am the Advocacy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of all three lake protection bills before you today – LD 40, LD 568, and LD 713.
Over the past 40 years, Maine people from both the public and private sectors have understood the importance of protecting the water quality of Maine’s lakes from the type of degradation that plagues so many lakes in other parts of the country. Thousands of people have worked to create a safety net that has helped protect Maine’s lakes, but that safety net is not as strong as it needs to be to ensure that our lakes remain as healthy as possible for future generations. Dozens of Maine’s lakes currently are on DEP’s “impaired waters” list, and others are close to a tipping point beyond which they could suffer significant and rapid decline.
According to a University of Maine research paper published in 2013, the water quality of Maine’s lakes has been declining since 1995. If this trend continues, then more Maine lakes are likely to experience algae blooms that kill fish populations, reduce shorefront property values, and make it difficult to enjoy a lake for a broad range of recreational activities which are an important part of the Maine experience.
The difference between a clean lake and a lake in decline is huge, as the attached photos of Cross Lake and Sabbatus Pond show. Although Maine has much to be proud of in the lake water quality that we have today, this also means that we have a lot to lose. Many lake advocates around the state are worried that we’re losing that battle due to nutrient pollution, invasive species, and inadequate enforcement of our existing laws. The task of protecting Maine’s lakes is a job that we’ll never be able to walk away from, not our lake associations, municipalities, shorefront property owners, or the DEP.
The bills before you today have several important components that we support.
LD 40 and LD 568 both include measures to reduce fertilizer applications near great ponds. Both approaches have merit, and both were discussed by this committee last year.
At the present time, Maine has no fertilizer application setback. Vermont and New Hampshire both prohibit the application of fertilizer within 25 feet of a water body. Fertilizer application restrictions also are in place in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. Each of these states has a slightly different approach, but each helps send an important message to landowners that they need to be careful about the application of fertilizer near surface waters.
A technical paper from the University of Connecticut, with input from across New England, recommends a setback of at least 20 feet, and suggests that a 50 to 100 foot setback is advisable. I’ve attached this report to my testimony, with some key provisions highlighted in yellow.
The Committee last year supported a bill with a 50 foot prohibition on the application of fertilizers near great ponds, unless a soil sample test recommends the addition of fertilizer within that buffer to stop, slow, or remediate shoreline erosion. LD 40 includes this same language, which we support. But we also are prepared to work with the committee to develop fertilizer setback language that makes sense for Maine and our lakes.
LD 568 includes language that would update the statutory description of the work of the DEP lake assessment and protection program. We support these changes, particularly the addition of the language about DEP’s role in helping protect Maine lakes through partnerships. If there is one thing we’ve learned over the past 20 years regarding lake water protection, it is that partnerships are critical to help leverage the collective resources and actions of land owners, businesses, lake associations, municipalities, public and civic officials and leaders, and state and federal environmental professionals. DEP has an important role to play in these partnerships, as demonstrated, for example through the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. As shown on the chart attached to my testimony, the VLMP program – which does an incredible job generating water quality data for Maine’s lakes – taps into a broad range of resources, with the largest single element being the value of volunteer time (worth nearly $500,000 annually)
Finally, NRCM strongly supports LD 713, which would include creation of a stakeholder process to evaluate the effectiveness of Maine’s shoreland zoning law. There is little question that our shoreland zoning law, overall, has been a success in helping protect water quality – but the time has come to take a close look at how it can be better enforced to ensure uniform application.
In closing, we urge the Committee to help strengthen the safety net for Maine’s lakes by enacting some of the best provisions before you today, informed by the best ideas from today’s testimony. Again, thank you for this opportunity to testify, and I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.