Lawmakers back long-sought Androskogin River water quality upgrade


Buff Barnes stretches at Water Street Boat Landing along the Androscoggin River after jogging along the river in Brunswick on Wednesday. Barnes is from Philadelphia but has been in Brunswick for several months visiting family and taking every opportunity to visit the river. Rus Dillingham/Sun Magazine

Without a single dissenting vote, both chambers of the legislature approved a bill that would raise water quality standards on the Androskogin River, which stretches more than 14 miles from the Lisbon Falls to the sea.

Proposals for a higher legal classification from Worumbo Dam to Merrymeeting Bay, where six rivers meet, would force regulators to take steps to maintain water quality, a move that could over time have consequences for factories, sewage treatment plants and dams Potentially costly impact.

Beth Ahearn, director of government affairs for Maine Voter Conservation, called the unanimous vote in the House and Senate a landmark 50-year-old vote by U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie. A “proper tribute” to the federal clean water bill, he is a Maine Democrat who grew up in Rumford.

The Androscoggin River flows past the historic Pejepscot Paper Co. factory in Topsham, seen from the Brunswick side of the river. Rus Dillingham/Sun Magazine

Ahearn said the lawmakers’ vote “provides strong support for protecting Maine’s waters.”

Changing the river classification of the lower Androskogin River from the lowest class C to B is just one of many amendments in the bill, which provides more protection for about 800 miles of Maine’s waterways.

But the Androscoggin River holds special significance as an important river in the Pine State, and the river Musk is most familiar with, as he works to reverse water pollution that has turned once pristine waterways into stinky, discolored, and unsightly waterways. Safe mess.

Given the state Department of Environmental Protection’s support for the bill, Gov. Janet Mills is likely to sign the measure into law. It is not expected to impose a financial burden on the country.

Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP Water Quality Bureau, told lawmakers the department had questions about earlier efforts to raise the Lewiston to Estuary classification to a Class B.

He said the shorter sections of the bill would not raise the same concerns.

The problem with starting a higher-level classification in Lewiston is that the Gulf Island ponds where the dam sits above the falls add a lot of complexity to the water level problem, especially at low water conditions.

From Rumford to the pond, the water quality of the river is worse than downstream. But officials said the 19-mile stretch from the Gulf Island dam to the Worumbo dam needed more scrutiny because it could affect discharge permit limits for the Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority and three paper mills along the river.

Conservationists believe they can make a case for an upgraded classification of the river from the Gulf Island dam to Merry Metin Bay, but that won’t happen this year.

Susan Caldwell, left, and Dan Kirk stopped on the Swing Bridge in Brunswick on Wednesday for a view of the Androskogin River. The pair, who work in Fort Andross in the background, say they often walk around the river loop for “walking meetings” rather than sitting in conference rooms. Rus Dillingham/Sun Magazine

Maine’s rivers are regulated according to their classification, which, simply put, is based on how polluted they are. Each waterway is rated AA, A, B or C freshwater rivers, with AA being the best and C the worst.

The state system says the AA stream does not discharge waste into its waters and does not store water from the dam. Category A carries a risk of degradation due to “very limited emissions”.

The Androskogin River poured over a dam at the Brunswick hydroelectric power station in Brunswick on Wednesday afternoon. On the left is the Frank J. Wood Bridge. Rus Dillingham/Sun Magazine

Class B rivers have fewer restrictions on activities “but still maintain high water quality standards”, which require stricter regulations on discharge from treatment plants, factories or any other point where water is introduced into the river.

The state said the C-rated river “remains of good quality, but has a smaller margin of error” before significant degradation is likely to occur, most likely in the event of a leak or drought that makes dilution of emissions more difficult.

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