Investments in drinking water supplies, flood protection and stormwater management projects are cost effective solutions that spur economic growth and save money in the long-term, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and a coalition of interest groups announced today.
Bill sponsor Senator Majority Leader Seth Goodall called on the Legislature to support LD 1455, a $50 million bond proposal designed to invest in natural and built infrastructure that provides water-related benefits for communities across Maine. If passed, Maine voters will have the opportunity to vote on the water bond this November.
“Maine’s water resources are critical assets that support our economy and Maine’s brand,” said Senator Goodall. “Well-planned and cost-effective investments like these will ensure abundant and high quality drinking water throughout Maine. And it will keep our communities safe and create and preserve jobs in the areas of construction, tourism, fisheries and environmental engineering.”
LD 1455 outlines “Built Infrastructure” as investments in stream crossing (culvert) upgrades, Low Impact Development stormwater management projects, and irrigation system enhancements which improve the efficiency of water use by farmers. “Natural Infrastructure” includes the conservation or restoration of high priority lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater sources, wetlands and headwater forests.
"Incentives for towns to make investments in upgrading culverts and managing stormwater is absolutely critical," said Senator Tom Saviello (R-Franklin County). "Takings these steps provides strong economic benefits and strong fish and wildlife benefits."
The introduction of LD 1455 comes on the heels of a new report "An Assessment of the Economics of Natural and Built Infrastructure for Water Resources in Maine" from researchers at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. The report, including the executive summary, can be found here.
Co-authors Charles Colgan, Damon Yakovleff, and Samuel Merrill conclude that "Maine's most essential resource" can be best managed through a combination of promoting the conservation of existing natural systems and constructing "lower-cost decentralized structures."
Investments in replacing and upgrading culverts are one of the highest priorities for municipalities, state agencies and conservation groups. Statewide, culverts play a critical role in Maine’s transportation system, providing water passage and drainage beneath roads or other crossings. Moreover, blocked or poorly-sized culverts obstruct passage for fish species such as brook trout and a host of wildlife species. According to a recent report by the New England Environmental Finance Center, there are approximately 35,000 culverts in Maine, and a large percentage would not be able to accommodate expected increases in precipitation.
“Durable culverts, strategic wetland, and headwater land conservation reduce the need for fixes later,” explained Nancy Smith, executive director of GrowSmart Maine. “This legislation represents cost-effective, long-term investments that protect our drinking water sources from contamination and our towns and cities from significant storm damage, all while reducing future costs infrastructure repair and upgrades.”
The report also examines the effectiveness of stormwater management techniques designed to mimic the way natural areas work, such as street trees or rain gardens that can help treat stormwater run-off, or porous paving materials that allow stormwater to be absorbed by the ground. These so called “Low Impact Development” techniques, take taking pressure off of built systems, which is especially critical in highly developed urban areas.
"This assessment properly identifies a host of cost effective engineering solutions for reducing storm water flows into treatment plants; preventing flood damage to public and private property and ensuring clean water,” said Jim Wilson, P.E. and President of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Maine. “Engineers are designing these solutions today for communities that seek to avoid much more costly alternatives. This is the right approach for the environment and the pocketbook."
Investments in natural infrastructure projects ensure an abundant and high quality drinking water supply statewide and provide important flood control benefits for communities across the state. Additionally, these activities conserve habitat for recreational fisheries, waterfowl and other important fish and wildlife species and strengthen Maine’s long-term economic base and competitive advantage.
“One of the more serious and imminent threats to public water supplies in southern Maine is development in our watersheds. We are very lucky to live in a state with near pristine resources from which to draw our drinking water,” said David Parent, superintendent of Sanford Water District and president of the Southern Maine Regional Water Council. “This legislation would facilitate conservation in watersheds, thus allowing public water supplies to continue to provide abundant, clean, and affordable water to the citizens of our state for generations to come.”
To evaluate the impact that natural areas could have in flood damage protection and stormwater management, the Colgan report created a simulation of risks in three York County watersheds: the Branch Brook/Merriland River, the Kennebunk River, and the Mousam River. They found that investing an estimated $15 million to conserve important natural areas in these watersheds could provide a benefit of over $275 million in avoided flood damage costs over time.
“This bill provides a common-sense approach for addressing water-related challenges,” said Tom Rumpf, Associate State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “The Colgan report shows that investments in stream buffers, culvert upgrades, wetland restoration, and sustainable forestry can be less expensive than building new filtration systems.”
"Maine's towns and cities have legitimate concerns about the costs associated with storms after management mandates under the federal Clean Water Act and road crossing infrastructure requirements being pushed at the state level," said Geoff Herman, Director of Government Affairs at Maine Municipal Association. "The built infrastructure elements of LD 1455 respond in a constructive way to those concerns."
Aside, from Sens. Goodall and Saviello, other co-sponsors of the bill include House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), House Majority Assistant Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan), Senate Majority Assistant Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Rep. Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade), Senator Jim Boyle (D-Cumberland), Rep. Russell Black (R-Wilton), Sen. Dawn Hill (D-York).
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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The Nature Conservancy in Maine
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