Issue Profile: Maine Nonpoint Source Priority Watersheds Program

September, 2010. Contact:  (207)-287-

3901   DEPLW98-5-B98

Every time rain falls or snow melts, pollutants such as soil, nutrients, bacteria, oils, and heavy metals are swept from land surfaces and carried through the watershed by runoff water into lakes, coastal waters, rivers and streams. This is nonpoint source pollution, so named because it may occur anywhere in the watershed, as opposed to coming from a single discharge point. Land use activities are the sources of nonpoint source pollution. Developed areas, including roads, parking lots and builidings; farming; and timber harvesting are all potential nonpoint sources that can cause or contribute to water quality problems.

What is the Nonpoint Source Priority Watersheds Program?

In 1997, the Maine Legislature enacted a law that authorizes the development of "a comprehensive watershed protection program" (5 MRSA §3331(7)). The program’s purpose is to prevent or reduce nonpoint source (NPS) pollutant loadings entering water resources so that beneficial uses of the lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and groundwater are maintained or restored. The law directs the Maine Land and Water Resources Council (MLWRC), consisting of the commissioners from the State’s natural resource agencies, to coordinate the activities of agencies involved in watershed management. The Maine Watershed Management Committee, with representatives from state and federal agencies and private interest groups with a statewide interest in watershed management, serves as staff support to the Council.

Through the Maine NPS Priority Watersheds Program, State and Federal agencies will work with local groups to:

  • Promote local support for improving water quality in watersheds,
  • Perform watershed field survey assessments of the water resource and surrounding land uses,
  • Develop watershed management plans to determine what actions are necessary to achieve an improvement in water quality,
  • Implement watershed management plans through the use of best management practices (BMPs) to reduce or eliminate NPS pollution in the water resource.
What is the NPS Priority Watershed List?

The law directs the MLWRC to establish priorities for directing resources to the management of water bodies based on:

  • The degree of threat or impairment to water quality and aquatic habitat exists due to nonpoint source pollution;
  • The value of the water body;
  • The likelihood of successfully restoring or protecting water quality; and
  • The degree of local public support for watershed management.

Based on these criteria, the MLWRC approved a list of priority watersheds in October 1998. The list includes 181 lakes, 55 rivers and streams, and 17 estuaries. The Nonpoint Source Priority Watersheds List.

What is the significance of the NPS Priority Watersheds List?

State and federal agencies will seek to provide assistance to local groups that are developing or implementing watershed management plans in these watersheds. The list will also help agencies coordinate activities in priority areas, and to form new partnerships to leverage resources for greater environmental benefit.

What kinds of assistance will be available?

Some technical assistance from a variety of state and federal agency staff will be available to help volunteers organize and carry out watershed surveys to determine the sources of water pollution, and to help with the planning, design, and implementation of best management practices to protect water resources from pollution. Since staff typically receive more requests for assistance than can be met, requests for assistance in priority watersheds will generally receive preference over other requests.

What about financial help?

Financial assistance for groups developing or implementing watershed management plans and activities will be made available through a grant program administered by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). For the past several years, the DEP has awarded approximately $500,000 per year from Federal Clean Water Act funds to public and not profit entities for projects to reduce nonpoint source pollution. In 1998, that amount will be supplemented by an additional $500,000, from a bond issue approved by Maine voters this past June. While these funds are not limited to NPS Priority Watersheds, preference will be given to projects in those areas (see 38 MRSA §2013).

Are watersheds on the list ranked in order of priority?

No. However highest priority waters for Rivers & Streams and Lakes have been designated.

What if I live in a watershed that is not on the NPS Priority Watersheds List? Does that mean the State is unconcerned about NPS pollution there?

No. With 5,800 lakes, 30,000 miles of rivers and streams and 4,500 miles of coastline, there are many water resources that are not on the NPS Priority Watersheds list. Some of these unlisted waters are of very high value, including some that provide public water supplies. Others have already suffered a decline in water quality and are at risk for further decline. Virtually all waters are at some risk due to NPS pollution. The MLWRC encourages local stewardship activities to protect all of these waters, whether or not they are on the list. Local watershed protection groups should continue to form and operate; While limited, grant assistance and technical support from state and federal agency staff may be available for these areas as well.

I’ve seen other State waterbody lists; does this list supercede them?

No. Several other lists have been published which serve different purposes. For instance, under the Stormwater Management Law, there are lists of water bodies designated as sensitive or threatened" and "most at risk" from new development. These stormwater lists are focused only on impacts from new development. And there is a list of waters that do not or will not meet state water quality standards even after implementation of technology-based controls for both point sources and nonpoint sources of pollution. There is some overlap between these lists. Each list is valid for the purpose for which it was created.

Will the NPS Priority Watersheds list be subject to periodic review and update?

Yes. Priorities will change over time as watershed management programs are put into place in some areas, and new information becomes available on water quality values, threats and impairments.