Review and Recommendations Regarding Ground Water Regulations
1. Watershed approach
This group has endorsed a watershed approach to addressing water
issues. The rationale is that watersheds define the natural boundaries of water availability and
use, and as such represent reasonable units through which to approach water issues. Scarce
resources could be focused on watersheds where there is potential for problems rather than
applying a new approach on a statewide basis. The rationale is underscored by the Maine
Geological Survey's preliminary analysis of watersheds at risk, which suggests mostly localized
potential for problems. Watersheds are also the basic units used in efforts to reduce non-point
source pollution. A watershed approach can be dynamic and capable of responding to new
This effort should focus on the sustainability of water withdrawals in a watershed. Because
of the direct linkage between surface water and ground water resources, when considering water
management issues in a watershed it is necessary to consider all water resources and water uses
within a watershed, not simply those related directly to ground water. This effort would focus on
sustainability issues and would dovetail with but not usurp the in-stream flow rules (rules
currently in review by the BEP), which if approved will govern impacts on water-related natural
The watershed approach to addressing water issues should be built on a tiered system. Note
that many of the activities or management responsibilities outlined in the following discussion of
tiers will be carried out by the Ground Water Committee proposed in recommendation #2.
- Tier 1: Conduct full assessment of water supply and demand, including build-out analysis of
community water needs. This needs to be a more complete analysis than the Maine
Geological Survey's preliminary analysis of watersheds at risk. Some data may need to be
developed to support this analysis. This work will be carried out by the Ground Water
Committee (see #2).
- Tier 2: If Tier 1 analysis indicates need, work with parties to develop a water-use
management plan (similar to Aroostook agreement or Downeast Rivers) for the watershed.
Agreements among users may limit uses, adjust periods of use, implement conservation
measures, provide incentives for good stewardship, and include other measures. Monitoring
the results of a management plan is an important consideration. The Ground Water
Committee (#2) will manage the planning effort.
- Tier 3: If over-subscription of water use remains after Tier 2 analysis, there may be a need
for a binding dispute resolution process to resolve issues. Discussion of this option was
tabled because the group could not come to broad agreement that such a process was
necessary at this time.
The Ground Water Committee proposed in the following recommendation a process that could
facilitate the watershed approach.
2. Ground Water Committee
Establish a Ground Water Committee (chaired by MGS) under the
Land and Water Resources Council. The committee would consist of state agency staff with
ground water responsibilities and expertise and would be advisory to the Land and Water
Resources Council. As with other meetings of the Council, meetings of the Ground Water
Committee would be open to others, and periodically others may be asked to present before the
Committee. The Committee could be established by Executive Order and should meet quarterly or more frequently if activities so demand. The Committee would have the following
- Review ground water withdrawal activities. This is not a permitting activity but a
regular, formal opportunity for periodic discussion among the permitting agencies
regarding these activities. Such discussions would be a preliminary step to identifying
watersheds at risk.
- Coordinate state ground water information. There is a wealth of ground water
information in various database and files that should be better coordinated, focusing first
in areas of potential problems.
- Refine the "watersheds-at-risk" analysis. Conduct appropriate ground water
investigations by state agencies in "watersheds at risk." Where water use and analysis
suggest potential problems, the Committee will direct appropriate investigations. With
appropriate input from the user community, the Committee would establish priorities for
such investigations and develop guidelines for consistency in investigations.
- Convene planning groups of stakeholders as needed to address withdrawals in
"watersheds at risk", in significant local aquifers, or in multi-municipal ground water
issues. Such an approach has been used successfully in the past to address issues in
Aroostook County and in eastern Maine. The need to convene planning groups may be
identified through the analysis of water information, or may come about through petition
by towns dealing with multi-town resource issues, or a town dealing with a significant
- Provide assistance to towns. Towns will always exert home rule and it will be beneficial
to develop some guidance documents that towns might use in addressing their concerns.
There may be a grants program whereby towns can request funds for technical assistance
on ground water sustainability issues.
- Develop and disseminate educational materials on water resources, regulatory regime.
See the next recommendation.
- Report annually to the Legislature.
3. Education on water science and current regulatory rigor
There is a broad net of regulations that address ground water withdrawals, but the nature and
extent of these regulations are not well known. The Ground Water Committee described in
recommendation #2 would be charged with the following:
- Develop education materials that clearly describe the various regulations governing
ground water withdrawals and how agencies interact in their implementation.
- Disseminate this information via meetings, conferences, internet resources, and other
4. Changes to regulations
- Drilled Well Reporting: Change definition to include all wells for water withdrawal.
Currently only wells drilled for potable water are reported. The new definition would
still exclude wells drilled for monitoring purposes.
- Natural Resource Protection Act: Modifications to NRPA to address non-agricultural
high-yield wells* not used for individual home domestic supply that are not otherwise
regulated by DEP or DHHS. (*High-yield well to be defined in rulemaking.)
- Bulk Water: The language of the Bulk Water Transport Law lacks specificity. The
language with regard to findings (failure to authorize will cause undue hardship) is very
difficult to apply. The group recommends that the Legislature review the predicate
findings to see if they are relevant. Part of this effort might focus on stream-lining the
application review process. There was one dissenting opinion in the group on this
- Agricultural wells: High-yield agricultural wells would be reviewed by the Agricultural
Water Management Board under a farm plan.
- Public Water Supplies: No changes are recommended to the regulations governing
public water supplies. Considerable information is available on these supplies to be used
in research on sustainable use of ground water resources.
- LURC jurisdiction: LURC will review its standards and rules governing water
withdrawal to identify and make changes as needed to:
Furthermore, LURC will explore the development of a guidance document to
ensure its review is consistent and coordinated with other agencies.
- clarify the existing regulations,
- assure consistency with DEP and DHHS, where applicable, and
- assure that the Commission's statutory authority over groundwater withdrawal is clearly
Last updated on February 5, 2007