May 9, 2003
Source Water Assessments Completed
The Drinking Water Program, part of the Maine Department of Human Services, announced today that it has completed the comprehensive assessment of the state’s public water supplies. This marks the end of an evaluation process that has involved the cooperation of a number of different agencies.
Peter E. Walsh, Acting Commissioner of the Department of Human Services, noted that the assessments represent the expertise and effort of a wide group of people from both the private and public sector. “We are fortunate to have such a dedicated corps of public health professionals who have spent the past several years to assemble this information. It is only fitting that they have completed this accomplishment during Drinking Water Week since it speaks directly to the need to protect and conserve water resources here in Maine.”
The assessments are the first statewide systematic evaluation of potential threats to the quality of drinking water supplies in Maine. They are intended to help state and local governments and water systems understand and improve the safety of their public water supplies. The Environmental Protection Agency mandated and funded these assessments as part of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments.
Nancy Beardsely, Director of the Maine Drinking Water Program, noted that the end of the assessment process marks the beginning of a new phase of water source protection. “We have a lot of work to do to reach the goal of providing safe and secure water supplies,” Ms. Beardsley noted, “and we will be counting on the help and cooperation of water suppliers and municipal officials in the near future to improve source protection throughout the state.”
According to State health officials, the assessments have identified future growth occurring near water sources as a primary concern. Specifically, many public water systems do not control all of land use activities in a community and most do not own the entire contributing area for their source. To compound the issue, local governments have been unable to adopt protective zoning or other ordinances to reduce the risk of development in these areas. “All of this means that very few water sources have high levels of protection in place,” noted Ms. Beardsely.
There are more than 2,300 public water supplies in Maine. They range from small restaurants and campgrounds to large systems like the Portland Water District. All told, they serve safe drinking water to more than 60% of Maine’s population. The Drinking Water Program encourages public water suppliers to purchase land or conservation easements to reduce development risk. Where this is not financially or logistically possible, suppliers and municipalities have been encouraged to work together to adopt reasonable controls on development that protect water quality.
In addition to community and institutional actions, individual citizens should be aware of the location of public water supplies so that they can do their part in preserving and improving water quality. The Drinking Water Program provides maps to municipalities showing their source protection areas and also assists in planning future development to avoid impact on source protection areas. The program will also be working with a number of agencies to conduct public education about source protection over the coming months.
A summary of the highlights of the assessments is available by calling (207) 287-6196.