E. Celebrating the Clean Water Act: Past, Present and Future

Morning Session – 8:30AM-10:30PM
Pine Tree Room (2nd floor, North Wing)

Session Co-Chairs:    

  • Jeanne DiFranco, Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection Biological Monitoring Unit
  • Thomas J. Danielson, Ph.D., Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection Aquatic Toxicology Unit

This past year marked the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act became law in 1972, due in large part to Maine’s own Senator Edmund Muskie who played a key role in writing and championing the Act. Over the last 50 years, this landmark legislation profoundly changed the way aquatic resources are managed and protected, resulting in major improvements to water quality and ecological health of water bodies in Maine and across the nation. The initial focus of this work addressed point-source pollution, such as end-of-pipe discharges from factories and municipal wastewater plants. As obvious signs of pollution including “color, odor and foam” were reduced, rivers were transformed from open sewers to areas enjoyed for their scenic and recreational values. Many water quality challenges remain however, including non-point sources of runoff from urban and agricultural areas containing heavy loads of sediment, nutrients, and toxic contaminants. Going forward, the Clean Water Act remains as relevant as it was 50 years ago by providing a legal framework to confront current challenges as well as emerging issues such as “forever chemicals”. Thanks to the vision, dedication, and hard work of partners throughout the State, progress in protecting clean water and healthy aquatic ecosystems in Maine continues.

Session Overview

Session Abstracts

Presenters are indicated in bold font.

The Clean Water Act and Past History of Pollution in Maine’s Waters

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Matt Scott with any questions.

Matthew Scott
Retired, Chief Aquatic Biologist, Maine Department of Environmental Protection 1988

This presentation will feature historical slides of water pollution in Maine during the years leading up to passage of the Clean Water Act. Maine’s role in this process was key to Senator Edmund Muskie’s approach as the senior author of the Act. The author will discuss two major events that took place in Maine during Muskie’s governing of Maine, and later following his election to the U.S. Senate. The Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act certainly could have been called the Muskie Acts, however Muskie was an excellent negotiator and knew what compromise was all about. One important note regarding the Clean Water Act was that President Richard Nixon vetoed it.  It went back to the Senate with an overwhelming vote to sustain the Act, and Nixon in the end signed it into law on October 18, 1972. It was huge victory for all U.S. Citizens. It has been a long road for recovery and will continue to be long into the future. Environmental Protection never ends. The author will focus on past conditions and what it was like 50 years ago on some of Maine’s most polluted waters.

Mapping Fifty Years of Changes in Maine’s Water Quality Classifications

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Rebecca Schaffner with any questions.

Rebecca Schaffner1, Douglas Suitor1, David L. Courtemanch2, Susan P. Davies, Eileen S. Johnson3
1. Maine Department of Environmental Protection
2. The Nature Conservancy
3. Bowdoin College

Starting in 1953, Maine implemented the first of several tiered water classification systems for its surface water bodies. These classifications set minimum water quality criteria for establishing discharge requirements, creating the conceptual scaffolding of a tiered system of management. Passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 drove further advances in science, technology, and policy leading to systematic improvement for the next five decades. The current classification system (rivers and streams are classified as AA, A, B,C; marine waters as SA, SB, or SC) sets a range of management goals, from eliminating all discharges to high-quality waters, to allowing for certain existing and new uses for others. The State assigns criteria for each classification, incorporating physical, chemical, and biological indicators. Periodically these classifications are reviewed and upgrades applied where justified based on long term monitoring. We used Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map and track changes in Maine’s water classification over a fifty-year period. Visualization of these changes demonstrates the impact of federal and state water policies, coupled with advances in water treatment technologies. This system has brought steady improvement in water quality, ecological condition, and overall value for human use. We use the evolution of Maine’s water classification system to follow progress in water quality improvement, with specific case studies and examples displayed in an ArcGIS Online StoryMap.

Long-term trends in toxic chemicals in Maine freshwater fish

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Tom Danielson with any questions.

Tom Danielson
Maine Department of Environmental Protection

The concentration of some toxic compounds in Maine’s freshwater fish has declined over several decades.  Past monitoring of mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and the pesticide “DDT” found high concentrations in some freshwater fish.  Based on these findings, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued fish consumption advisories for some waterbodies. While the concentrations of some of those toxics has declined, recent sampling has found high concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in freshwater fish in some lakes and rivers.  Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is the most common kind of PFAS in Maine fish.

Biogeochemical shifts and zooplankton responses in northeastern lakes: The success of acid recovery, complexity of biological recovery, and value of long-term monitoring

A pdf of this presentation is available. Please contact Sarah Nelson with any questions.

Stephanie Dykema1, Sarah Nelson2, Rachel Hovel3, Jasmine Saros4, Ivan Fernandez5, Katherine Webster6
1. Alder Environmental
2. Appalachian Mountain Club
3. University of Maine at Farmington, Department of Biology
4. University of Maine, Climate Change Institute
5. University of Maine, School of Forest Resources
6. Michigan State University, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife

Lakes in Maine and the northeastern U.S., as in other regions, experienced significant declines in water quality and ecosystem health in the late 20th century as atmospheric deposition from industrial emissions caused surface waters to acidify. After the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 limited emissions of sulfur and nitrogen, many lakes in the Northeast recovered from acidification. Zooplankton can serve as valuable indicators of lake ecosystem responses to such shifts due to their position as primary consumers in the food web. We evaluated a large historical dataset from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Eastern Lake Survey (ELS) of 143 lakes throughout the northeastern U.S. (including 45 lakes in Maine) to understand how recovery from acidification and subsequent chemical changes influenced zooplankton body size and community composition. From 1986 to 2004, ELS lakes’ surface water sulfate concentrations decreased by 22% and DOC (dissolved organic carbon) increased 26%. In more developed regions of our study area, chloride concentration in lakes tripled, likely due to increased use of road deicers, with a subsequent increase in calcium and magnesium base cations. Zooplankton body size increased significantly across all taxa, and body size of more calcium-dependent Daphnia species was positively associated with high calcium lakes. Shifts in zooplankton community structure, however, were most strongly influenced by variation in ANC, sulfate, and DOC. While surface water acidity has a strong influence on zooplankton community structure, multiple chemical changes such as increased chloride, alongside changes in climate and land-use, preclude a return to pre-acidification status.