The town of Perry is proposing an ordinance to ensure a municipal review of any large-scale extraction — more than 5,000 gallons per day — from groundwater and surface water. The ordinance is generally intended to protect the health, safety and welfare of people dependent upon such water supplies. The Passamaquoddy Tribe is opposed to the ordinance since it establishes a redundant permitting process, potentially adds to development costs through a third-party review and creates an untested regulatory environment.
The driving force for the creation of an ordinance dates back to the response to the exploratory, long-term pumping of three tribal wells in Perry in September 2013 by representatives of the tribe’s engineering firm Wright-Pierce. The purpose of the 10-day exercise was to determine the safe yield of an alternative source of drinking water for the region. Adequate local notification was not provided, and a decision to pump a well above hydraulic limits hurt community relationships.
Still, the tribe is not satisfied with the quality of water supplied by the Passamaquoddy Water District and has developed several exploratory wells to provide a new water source to the water district. The alternative source must meet drinking water standards while providing sufficient capacity to supply the water district’s customers. Water from tribal wells will have to be treated for arsenic, radionuclides and coliform bacteria in order to meet drinking water standards.
Arsenic and coliform are present in a majority of nearby Perry wells; and those consumers could potentially benefit from hooking up to an updated well system. Arsenic is an especially toxic contaminant that requires relatively expensive treatment at individual wells.
The state of Maine has approved a permit application from the Passamaquoddy Tribe to extract up to 250 gallons per minute from two tribal wells. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is waiting for the results of negotiations and a vote on the Perry ordinance to fund the next phase of development — the design of a facility, leading to project financing.
The permit from the Maine Drinking Water Program requires the submission of a Source Water Protection Plan, which closely mirrors the requirements outlined in the proposed Perry ordinance. Maine also requires proof on the capacity of tribal wells (250 gallons per minute) to meet the demands of Passamaquoddy Water District consumers, which averaged around 150 gallons per minute in 2013.
Consumers of Passamaquoddy Water District water offer the best testimony on water quality, and the general consensus is that it is highly variable and relatively expensive when compared with other public water suppliers. The creation of halomethanes, a potential carcinogenic agent, is a prime concern with the present surface water supply because of the need to heavily disinfect the water during the summer and warmer months.
Water from tribal wells will not require disinfection, which is a major cause of halomethanes formation and will reduce the production of nonrevenue water. Water from a groundwater source is generally considered better than the surface water source being used by Passamaquoddy Water District.
The ordinance should recognize the authority of Passamaquoddy Water District to develop resources in its district without having to proceed through additional licensing procedures. The Maine Legislature created the Passamaquoddy Water District in 1983 with the authority to extract both groundwater and surface water from the region in order to ensure an adequate supply of safe drinking water for residents of Perry, Eastport and the Pleasant Point Reservation. The Passamaquoddy Water District has received a legal opinion that the charter will be unaffected by the ordinance; however, legal wrangling is always costly and adds time to development efforts.
The Passamaquoddy Water District has worked on making improvements to the existing surface water supply; however, time, more stringent regulations, climate change impacts and an obsolete treatment facility necessitate consideration of a more suitable groundwater source to meet the needs of the future. Tribal wells are an available resource, which has received authorization from the state of Maine on a safe yield and should not be hampered by a proposed ordinance that is redundant and could potentially derail a project to deliver a better and less susceptible source of drinking water to local consumers.
Normand Laberge is a tribal engineer at Passamaquoddy Tribal Council at Pleasant Point Reservation.