Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. My name is Kristin Jackson, I am an Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and I appreciate this opportunity to testify in support of LD 959, which would provide important funding to help protect Maine’s lakes.
Maine lakes are among our state’s most valuable natural resources, providing more than 52,000 jobs and $3.5 billion to our state annually. Our lakes require protection to maintain their water quality and avoid the type of degradation that plagues so many lakes in other parts of the country. Thousands of people have worked for decades to create a safety net to help 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. Currently, 21 of Maine’s lakes are on DEP’s “impaired waters” list, and 162 others are directly and immediately threatened by nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, putting them close to a tipping point beyond which they could suffer significant and rapid decline.
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, nor the DEP.
The bill before you today has several important components that NRCM supports.
LD 959 includes language that would fund LakeSmart, a person-to-person education program for lakefront homeowners that benefits communities, towns, and all lake users, and helps Maine meet its Clean Water Act obligations through controlling and limiting nonpoint source pollution. No state could possibly fund enough personnel to find and plug the myriad and often minute causes of NPS pollution. In the five years since the Maine Lakes Society took over LakeSmart from the State, trained volunteers have contributed 2,877 hours, a value of $71,000. Because this efficient, privately run program directly supports Maine’s federal Clean Water Act obligations, it is appropriate and fair that LakeSmart receive strong public support, as would be provided by this legislation.
Additionally, LD 959 includes language that would fund the Lake Stewards of Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. We support this proposal, and acknowledge the widespread role of Maine citizens in gathering water quality data for the Lake Stewards of Maine program. This data is critical to understanding how our lakes are changing over time due to pressures from a changing climate, nutrient runoff, invasive plants, and other threats. Maine’s Lake Stewards program is perhaps the best of its kind the nation. As the chart attached to my testimony shows, volunteers provide nearly $800,000 worth of in-kind value to the Lake Stewards program each year. In this context, and the economic significance of Maine’s lakes, the funding proposed in LD 959 is a great value.
In closing, we urge the Committee to help strengthen the safety net for Maine’s lakes by enacting the provisions before you today. Spending money today on these programs saves money in the long run by reducing the risk that water quality declines, property values drop, and recreational and sporting opportunities are impaired. Again, thank you for this opportunity to testify, and I would be glad to answer any questions that you may have.