According to the 2019 Measures of Growth report, Maine excels in three areas: public safety, air and water quality and sustainable forest lands. As Mainers, these three strengths may not surprise you, and neither may the report’s finding that the state is not investing enough in infrastructure. While the report focuses on investing in Maine’s transportation infrastructure, the fact is, infrastructure across all sectors has critical need for improvement, including Maine’s water utility infrastructure.
Maine is fortunate to be a water-rich state. When we turn on our tap, we expect to see clean, high-quality water, and it’s easy to forget how this water actually gets to us from the source, whether that be lakes, rivers or groundwater. A lot goes into it, from source management and protection, treatment at water treatment plants, quality monitoring, pumping and distribution through underground pipes, managing storage in water tanks and towers to measuring use by each and every customer. Thankfully, there are hundreds of water professionals in Maine who make reliable, uninterrupted service possible.
While Maine has high-quality and generally well-maintained water systems, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Maine needs over $1.35 billion to maintain existing infrastructure over a 20-year period. Some people may be surprised that Maine’s water utility infrastructure is often close to a century old. Significant investment is required to keep up with these aging systems, and there are limited public funds available. Private water companies like Maine Water are well positioned to invest in water system infrastructure to reliably deliver safe drinking water to customers and communities. Through forward-looking planning and collaboration with the public sector, this continued investment improves dependability and water quality. Maine Water Company and other water utilities in Maine have strong records of proactively investing in our community water systems to meet the needs of current and future generations.
One example of needed investment is at the Saco River water treatment facility, which has been serving residents in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, and the Pine Point area of Scarborough since 1884. Given the plant’s age, it was clear through engineering assessments that construction of a new facility is a more cost-effective solution than attempting to renovate the aging facility. This generational investment will have the benefit of lower long-term cost of ownership, include updated treatment technology to meet increasingly stringent water quality standards, and be more energy efficient. Perhaps most importantly, a new facility located at a higher elevation would eliminate the risk of future flooding at the facility that could impact operation and service.
Investment in water infrastructure is not only necessary from a service and safety perspective, it is vital to supporting Maine’s economic performance. Poor infrastructure can stunt local economic growth – water infrastructure is necessary for towns to grow and sustain businesses. Further, communities across Maine depend on a robust, reliable water system to meet the needs of businesses and support local economic development.
With Infrastructure Week taking place from May 13-20, it’s a great time to talk about how we can tackle big projects and rely on our infrastructure to serve us well going forward. I think we’d all agree that sustained investment and thoughtful planning are worth it so we can continue to rely on clean, safe drinking water each day.
Rick Knowlton is the president of Maine Water Company.