Maine's "Best and Worst River Stories" from 2003 Draws Attention

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Maine Rivers' "2003 Best and Worst River Stories" has drawn attention to several river issues in Maine. The list, which was created with input from state-wide grass-roots organizations, highlights rivers around the state that have seen stunning improvements or have suffered major set-backs in the past year. The "Best" list featured more protective water quality standards on the Kennebec River.

Conversely, an inproper water quality certification issued to Flagstaff Lake in November ranks among its "Worst." Both issues are highlighted below. "Our worst list," Naomi Shalit, Executive Director of Maine Rivers said, "is a sorry statement of how it's still business as usual on many of Maine's rivers."

Expectations for the Kennebec River, a river once infamously considered one of Maine's dirtiest, have renewed following upgraded water quality standards. The more stringent standards will decrease the amount of e.coli bacteria found in the river section ranging from Augusta to Abbagadassett Point.

The increase in standards is of particular significance because state law prevents water quality standards to be downgraded without thorough review, suggesting that the river's water quality should continue to improve.

Its listing on the "Best" list has also helped to raise public and media awareness surrounding the Kennebec. With so much attention, one can expect the Kennebec to remain in the spotlight until its notorious water quality has recovered.

In November 2003, a water quality certification, called a "401," was issued to Florida Power and Light, the owners of a hydroelectric storage facility on Flagstaff Lake in Maine. The issuance ends a multi-year attempt to receive this certification, which certifies that the water behind the impoundment will meet state water quality standards. The 401 certification is also needed for the project's relicense.

According to Shalit, the certification is one that is inconsistent with state law because Flagstaff Lake was held to a lower water quality standard that was created specifically for Flagstaff. The Department maintains that there exists a suitable balance between project operation and biological protection, and that the reason for the initial delay in the certification was due to requested studies that were incomplete.

Maine Rivers announced in early January 2004 that they plan to challenge the Department of Environmental Protection's water quality certification. A hearing before the Board of Environmental Protection has not yet been scheduled.