Turn the faucet, and fresh water flows out. It’s automatic, right?
Not if there’s no money to perform essential upgrades and required maintenance on public drinking and wastewater systems in Maine, some of which have pipes and components that have been in use for more than a century.
“We use these systems every single day,” said Thomas Brennan, chairman of the Maine Public Drinking Water Commission. “Our communities and economies require this infrastructure. Whether we like it or not, the systems need to be maintained.”
One clear way to ensure that adequate funding is available for work that protects the safety of Maine’s drinking water is to vote yes on state ballot Question 5. The bond question asks voters to authorize borrowing $7.925 million, which would be used over two years as a state match for $39,625 million in federal funds. A little more than $3.5 million of the Question 5 bond money would go to drinking water facilities, with the balance earmarked for anti-pollution measures and wastewater treatment system upgrades.
Passage of Question 5 would yield a 5-to-1 return in federal dollars on Maine’s expenditure to replenish the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which was established in 1997 as a financing tool to minimize the impact on ratepayers of public water system capital projects, and a similar Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund created in 1987 for wastewater treatment.
Bangor, Portland, Camden, Rockland, Hampden, Eastport, Presque Isle, Bucksport, Caribou and Calais are among the communities in line this year to receive assistance from the drinking water revolving loan fund.
Projects in Eastport, St. Agatha, Mechanic Falls, Fairfield, Sanford, Wiscasset, Pittsfield, Brunswick, Castine, Limestone and Oxford are on this year’s list for the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund.
Ensuring the safety of public drinking water constitutes one of the basic responsibilities of government. The revolving loan programs make it possible for those entrusted to safeguard Maine’s drinking water supplies to undertake necessary but expensive projects with minimal impact on ratepayers.
Access to the revolving loan programs makes it possible for municipalities and water districts to plan major maintenance work and avoid delays that increase the risk of service disruption or system failures requiring expensive, emergency repairs.
Question 5 serves not only as a bridge to a more sustainable environment but to a funding mechanism that aims to avoid reliance on general obligation bonds in the future. In 2011, the Legislature approved a proposal spearheaded by Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, to tap revenue from the state’s wholesale liquor contract to pay the state match for federal water system improvement funding between 2014 and 2023.
Approval of Question 5 represents a high-yield investment for 2012 and 2013, before the new state match revenue stream opens in 2014. Because the federal funds require a state match, rejecting Question 5 would be tantamount to, well, flushing almost $40 million down the drain.
The benefits extend beyond the kitchen sink. Better wastewater treatment will reduce the likelihood that upriver wastewater discharges will force shellfish flat closures at the mouths of Maine rivers, another positive economic offshoot of projects funded by the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. And those projects create jobs for contractors, engineers and construction workers.
“A strategic approach to maintaining our infrastructure is good for business,” Brennan said. “It all goes to ensuring that when you turn on your tap, you can count on good clean water.”
Voting yes on Question 5 will extend that assurance to more Maine people.