Road to Solutions — Urbanization & Infrastructure
Developing and Deploying a Risk Framework for PFAS Management in Rural America: Connecting Predictive Models of PFAS Contamination with Risk Perceptions to Guide Management Decisions (WRRI 104g)
Across the United States, there is growing concern about the widespread occurrence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in our water, our food, and our bodies stemming from exposure through landfills, pesticides, atmospheric deposition, consumer products and fire suppressants. This is particularly true in rural America, where the land application of municipal and industrial biosolids to agricultural fields or septage disposal sites may be further contributing to PFAS contamination in groundwater and surface water.
Integrated Assessment of Alternative Management Strategies for PFAS-contaminated Wastewater Residuals (WRRI 2021)
PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals,” are used in a range of consumer products from nonstick cookware to breathable rain gear and food packaging. Though PFAS have been in use since the late 1950s, it is only in the last 20 years that their toxicity has been well documented. Because these chemicals do not break down, they eventually end up in the wastewater streams sent to treatment plants. During treatment, much of the PFAS are removed from the wastewater and become concentrated in the wastewater sludge, or residuals, that remain. In 2019, the state stopped spreading wastewater residuals on farm fields due to the discovery of unsafe levels of PFAS in virtually all samples and PFAS contamination at several Maine dairy farms. An interdisciplinary research team is examining the environmental, social and economic consequences of a range of management options for PFAS-contaminated wastewater residuals.
Energy justice seeks to make sustainable energy solutions such as energy efficiency more accessible to traditionally underrepresented groups. Community energy involves a group of people coming together to solve an energy issue. This project addresses the solutions-side of energy justice with a pilot project on collectively building insulating window inserts, which can reduce heat loss, save energy and money, and protect the environment, in an Indigenous community.
The benefits of collaborative river basin planning efforts are increasingly recognized. Informed decision-making in these basins requires access to comprehensive data and information (“water data”) about key issues. However, the water data that are needed are often found in disparate sources, or are not publicly available, posing barriers to effective water management.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated a project to investigate and document the value of improving the discovery, sharing, and use of water data for diverse stakeholder groups. Coordinated dam management practices within and across these basins could lead to opportunities for greater power production and fewer environmental impacts than if dams are managed independently.
Vacationland. Take one look at Maine’s license plate and you see the widespread importance of tourism to the state. Maine’s natural resources attract visitors from all over the world but are also vulnerable to climate change, which is likely to impact visitors as well as communities dependent on tourism. This project seeks to move beyond traditional power structures and collaborate with community partners to co-develop locally relevant, useful climate change solutions. The result of this collaboration will be a participatory framework to build climate-planning capacity within tourism-dependent communities.
The research and engagement of Collaborating Toward Climate Solutions (CTCS) is designed to support on-the-ground problem-solving for the complex challenges that communities face with climate change. The research team is working closely with community partners to co-develop strategies and extension/assistance services to foster adaptation and resilience. This includes learning about community priorities and challenges and identifying potential service-provider partners, best practices, and the potential for networks that enable towns to connect with peer communities.
With large-scale river restoration projects becoming more prevalent, new opportunities such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project (PRRP) have emerged to investigate key questions about socio-economic impacts. Comprehensive stakeholder engagement and collaboration between a variety of interests were critical to the success of the PRRP and other similar dam removals. The research team is working with key stakeholders to identify and evaluate impacts of river restoration, continuing to learn about the socio-economic impacts and benefits of dam removals and the importance of building community engagement and education around river restoration.
The Mitchell Center’s Materials Management team has brought together a diverse group of waste management stakeholders to collaboratively imagine how the state might make more progress toward its waste reduction and recycling goals, with the single most important issue for ensuring a more sustainable system being the reduction of food waste and getting organics out of the landfill.
The Landowner Networking Project: Supporting Community-Based Vernal Pool Conservation on Private Land
Private lands provide many public goods (e.g., habitat for wildlife, water conservation, educational, aesthetic, or recreational value), but perceived value to private landowners may be less clear. Achieving conservation goals on private lands thus requires a broader choice of conservation tools and approaches that address the needs and priorities of all landowners. The Maine Vernal Pool Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) was devised to meet this need.
Maine’s communities and economy are critically dependent on the safety of its road network, which is in turn dependent on tens of thousands of culverts that allow water to flow under roads. Unfortunately, many of these culverts are at risk of failure, either due to their degrading condition or because they are undersized for the increasingly large floods and bank erosion caused by climate change and urban development.
This project builds and expands on the 2018 Food Waste Reduction project which was focused on food loss, food waste, and barriers to establishing a circular food system and environmental sustainability while addressing food insecurity. This project will expand on the earlier project to include: a) University of Maine System (UMS) students’ active engagement in an interdisciplinary undergraduate collaborative team led by undergraduate students who participated in the Food Waste Reduction project; and b) UMS students’ participating in all phases of research.
Reuse Markets as a Means to Advance Environmental, Social and Economic Public Policy (Materials Management)
In an era of non-renewable resource depletion and growing waste streams, environmentalists and industrialists alike are advocating for the development of more circular economic systems that can reduce resource pressure, waste, and inefficiencies by keeping existing materials in economic circulation longer. In response, many communities have already implemented programs designed to encourage a new “culture” of reuse.
The Emergent Risks of Food Waste Recovery: Characterizing the Contaminants in Municipal Solid Waste (Materials Management)
To approach a more sustainable food system in the United States, our system must become more energy, water and material-efficient. The ideal model is a circular food system that eliminates waste by returning nutrients to agricultural soils while minimizing water and energy use. As we move towards organic waste recovery and nutrient recycling, we must plan for emerging risks that may compromise the safety of a more circular food system.
Resource stewardship in parks and natural areas encompasses promoting both healthy ecosystems and healthy visitors. In Acadia National Park (ANP), millions of tourists and outdoor enthusiasts per year are at risk of exposure to a suite of pathogens transmitted by hard-bodied ticks.
Maine has many natural resources, but with approximately 90 percent of its land forested, it is a large contributor of ecosystem services—benefits that humans derive from nature—to the state, and most of the state’s communities rely on one or more ecosystem services to support their local economies.
Materials Management is a term that attempts to capture the overall life cycle of materials from raw materials, to products, to end disposal. It combines all aspects of solid waste with all forms of diversion to establish a systems approach to this complex topic. Solid Waste is a significant sustainability challenge in Maine…
Atlantic salmon populations in Maine have declined over previous decades and remain critically low. Despite extensive hatchery supplementation and habitat improvement efforts made by management agencies over the last four decades, there has been no clear population response and extinction of the species remains an immediate threat.
Future of Dams (New England Sustainability Consortium)
This four-year study examines the future of dams in New England and marks an expansion in partners and scope for the New England Sustainability Consortium (NEST), an innovative collaboration focused on increasing the safety of coastal beaches and shellfish beds that are threatened by bacterial pollution and other microbial pathogens.
Many Maine communities are facing the same dilemma: how to maintain economic viability without compromising the ecological integrity of natural resources that attract people to Maine. This vernal pools research team is using local vernal pool conservation as a model to help communities find ways to balance economic development with natural resource conservation on private land…
Sebago Lake is many things to many people: drinking water for about 200,000 Greater Portland residents, a place to play and a source of hydropower. This research team is working to create team new tools to aid in planning and policy decisions to help safeguard Sebago’s future…
Sustainable Urban Regions Project (SURP)
Maine’s expanding urban regions have brought growth in jobs and housing and created areas rated among the most livable in the U.S. This growth, however, has come at a cost, including rising energy use, habitat loss, and many other problems associated with sprawl…
People, Landscape and Communities (PLACE)
More than a third of Maine—nearly six million acres—is owned by small landowners in parcels of 1 to 1,000 acres. Their decisions about managing their land affect not only their own welfare; they collectively influence Maine’s communities, broader landscape, and quality and sense of place…
Mapping a Sustainable Future
Major forces are altering Maine’s communities and landscape. Over the past 15 years, development pressure has intensified in the southern part of the state, and millions of acres of forest have changed hands in the north…