NRCM news release
Top lake protection experts today called on the Legislature to pass a bill (LD 1744) to protect the water quality in Maine’s 6,000 lakes. Representing communities and lake associations across the state, the experts expressed concerns about the slow decline in water quality they are currently seeing in Maine lakes. They warned that some lakes are reaching a “tipping point” and may rapidly deteriorate, unless Maine takes action to strengthen the safety net for Maine’s lakes, including through passage of LD 1744
“Maine’s lakes generate more than $3.5 billion in economic activity annually, supporting 52,000 jobs,” said Rebecca Kurtz, Executive Director of the Maine Lakes Association. “Yet the health of these treasured and invaluable assets is declining as non-point source pollution is flushed across the land and into our lakes. We can no longer afford to be complacent about lake protection. LD 1744 is a comprehensive and common sense bill that will help protect our lakes and the many benefits they provide.”
“It’s important to understand that Maine’s lakes are really fragile and we’re heading toward a tipping point on many of them,” said Peter Lowell, Executive Director of Lakes Environmental Association. “We are much closer to losing our traditional water quality than most people realize. It is vital that DEP be a strong player in lake protection efforts to provide research and stand firm when enforcement measures are called for.”
Lake advocates testified in support of “An Act to Protect Maine’s Lakes” (LD 1744), introduced by Representative Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan). The Environment and Natural Resources Committee held a public hearing on the bill today, with plans to conduct work sessions in coming weeks.
New research from the University of Maine shows that the clarity of Maine’s lakes has worsened since 1995.
“LD1744 is entitled, ‘An Act to Protect Maine Lakes,’ but it could just as easily be titled, ‘An Act to Protect over 52,000 Maine Jobs and our most valuable economic assets that generate over $3.5 billion of economic activity annually,’” said Peter Kallin, Executive Director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance. “In the town of Rome where I live, 80% of the property tax base is shorefront property, which pays virtually the entire education budget of the town. Much of that property is owned by nonresidents. Governor LePage has called for the creation of special economic zones where out-of-state money will be invested to create jobs in Maine. Maine’s lakes are already the ‘Mother of all special economic zones.’ This bill will help ensure their continued success not just this year but for the foreseeable future.”
“We are at a pivotal juncture in lake protection here in Maine,” said Debbie Hite, Executive Director, Androscoggin Lake Improvement Corporation. “Collaborative efforts are the key to getting the job done. Lake associations and their affiliates don’t mind doing the legwork, but we need the reassurance of strong support from the DEP to maximize the good we can accomplish together.”
LD 1744 would clarify responsibilities for the Department of Environmental Protection’s lake protection program; reduce nutrient and chemical pollution runoff to lakes; boost enforcement through creation of photographic records of shorelines; provide improved code enforcement officer trainings; create a certification program for landscape contractors who work on lakefront properties; and strengthen a voluntary program for lakefront property owners to reduce lake pollution.
“Maine’s lakes are jewels worth billions to our state economy,” said Matt Scott, former DEP Chief Biologist hired to establish DEP’s lake program in the 1970s. “DEP once had a lake program that earned national and international recognition. I was hired to help create that program. It pains me to see what is now happening in terms of lost staff, lost institutional knowledge, and reduced education and outreach. Surely we can do better than this. We must do better than this to protect Maine’s lakes into the future.”
“Maine lakes are a huge economic driver for our state,” said Ginger Jordan-Hillier, a former environmental public health coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection who lives in Monmouth. “Lakes have been a cherished and important part of my family for many generations, as they have been for so many people. Unfortunately, Maine’s lake protection efforts have weakened in recent years. We need to get back on track and do more to protect this valuable resource for our children and grandchildren.”
LD 1744 has eight provisions aimed at helping strengthen protection of Maine’s lakes:
Sec. 2. Duties of DEP Lakes Assessment and Protection Program. This section establishes a clear set of responsibilities for DEP’s lake protection program in the areas of education, research, enforcement, water quality, habitat protection, and partnership development. The section also clarifies the critical role of partnerships between DEP and a broad range of other entities in protecting our lakes.
Sec. 3. Restrictions on application of chemicals and soil amendments. This provision will help protect water quality by banning application of any fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide or soil-amendments within 25 feet of a lake. Nutrient and chemical runoff to Maine’s lakes remains a significant water quality risk. Vermont already bans application of any fertilizer within 25 feet of the waters of the state. Other chemicals and soil additives are captured in LD 1744 because they can similarly contribute to water quality impacts.
Sec. 4. Photographic record of shorelines to assist enforcement. This provision boosts enforcement of existing laws protecting lake water quality through development of photographic records of the shorelines of Maine lakes. A number of towns already are using this tool. The goals spelled out in LD 1744 are ambitious and likely need to be scaled back. Costs can be significantly reduced if this information is developed by lake associations and non-profits, as proposed, or pursued as pilot projects.
Sec. 5. Training for municipalities. Municipal code enforcement officers play a critical role in protecting Maine’s lakes through enforcement of shoreland zoning. This provision aims to ensure that sufficient training is done, on a regular basis, to help code enforcement officers stay abreast of shoreland zoning provisions.
Sec. 6. Landscape contractor certification. Nutrient runoff from lakefront properties is one of the biggest threats to lake water quality. This provision directs DEP to develop a new certification program for landscape contractors who work in the shoreland zone, to help boost landscape strategies that are protective of water quality.
Sec.7. Filling DEP lake program vacancies. Several staff members have departed from DEP’s Lake Assessment Program in the past few years, and the number of staff focused on lake protection work appears to be below the authorized level of 7.5 staff positions focused on lakes issues at DEP, with 5.5 positions in the Lake Assessment Program proper. Current staffing levels for the Program are well below this. This provision is designed to ensure that existing positions are filled.
Sec.8. Reducing water quality impacts from camp roads and other roads. DEP released a Lake Camp Road Report in December 2008 to address risks from camp roads, logging roads, driveways, and boat launches. Many of the recommendations in that report have not been implemented and warrant further review and implementation.
Sec.9. Promoting voluntary LakeSmart program. In 2012, DEP transferred the LakeSmart program to the Maine Lakes Society. This section directs a review of the effectiveness of that transfer and recommendations aimed at ensuring continued success.