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New efforts to mitigate pollution expected to provide huge benefits to Casco Bay


People strolling past the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility in Portland may not notice anything different, but major changes are taking place at the Portland Water District plant that may have huge benefits for the health of Casco Bay. After nearly a year of joint discussions among Casco Bay stakeholders, last week the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a wastewater discharge permit that is being applauded by both the Portland Water District (PWD) and Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB).

The final documents, which include a 139-page permit, outline basic requirements for operation and effluent limitations along with new expectations that total nitrogen will decrease between 20-40% during the five-year term of the permit.

The Portland Water District is nearing completion of a $12 million upgrade to the wastewater plant’s aeration system which will allow for the reduction of total nitrogen in the effluent.

Considered a major source of pollution to Casco Bay, nitrogen is found in sewage, stormwater, fertilizers, and air pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels. When excess nitrogen ends up in our coastal waters, it can lead to harmful algal blooms.

In addition, the Portland Water District is planning a comprehensive water quality monitoring program to regularly test nitrogen levels during the summer, when nitrogen is of greatest concern to the Bay, to continue support of the City of Portland’s stormwater and combined sewer overflow programs, and to participate in the Casco Bay Estuary Partnership’s Nutrient Council working group, tasked with developing policy recommendations and continued data collection.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this truly collaborative process.  I commend all those involved from DEP, FOCB, and PWD.  Not only does the permit take into consideration operational capabilities of the plant; it allows us to recognize an emerging concern of nutrient loading to Casco Bay,” stated Portland Water District’s General Manager Carrie Lewis.

“This is a big deal for Casco Bay and the City of Portland,” enthused Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca of Friends of Casco Bay, who worked closely with Portland Water District’s Director of Wastewater Services Scott Firmin on the agreement. “Not only will this benefit the region, but the Portland Water District’s forward-thinking approach may serve as a model for other Maine communities.”

For its part, the Department of Environmental Protection will continue to evaluate different wastewater dilution models that can be used to more accurately predict concerns regarding the discharge of treated effluent from wastewater treatment facilities.


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