Join the BDN for the second event in its Climate Conversations series on Thursday at 4 p.m., when the topic of discussion is “A Warming Gulf of Maine and our Marine Economy.”
Maine might not face the same sort of immediate threats as wildfires out West or more severe tropical storms along the Southeast coastline, but the changing global climate is already having an impact on the state.
Nowhere is this more evident than along Maine’s long, convoluted coastline, which is home to the state’s seafood industry and the focus of its tourism sector, each of which contributes more than a billion dollars to the state’s economy. Warming oceans are affecting fish populations in the Gulf of Maine, while generally hotter and drier weather — despite being interspersed with wetter storms — are helping to draw more tourists to the state.
In some coastal communities, officials are trying to figure out how they can adapt to the changing conditions, which include occasional extreme high tides, to help ensure those industries survive.
Warming water along the eastern seaboard has been credited with helping to boost the lobster population in the Gulf of Maine and to consistently produce bumper crops over the past 30 years in the $485 million fishery, but it also is predicted to bring Maine’s catch numbers back down as temperatures continue to increase. As a result, some Maine fishermen have been trying to diversify into aquaculture or to boost markets for other species such as black sea bass or jonah crab, whose populations might rise in the gulf as lobsters follow colder temperatures farther north.
Though an increasing number of tourists might provide a boost to Maine’s economy, the warming climate also carries a cost as rising seas and heavier rainfall threaten to overwhelm infrastructure such as low-lying roads and sewer systems used by tourists during their visits.
Local residents and officials by themselves cannot lower the ocean temperature or spread out the state’s rainfall more consistently to reduce droughts and floods, but many are hoping to figure out how to make themselves less vulnerable to flooding, the effects of which can be significant when stormy weather and unusually high tides coincide.
Some communities along the coast have begun to identify places that are most vulnerable to floods and how high water affects those places, paying special attention to local infrastructure. Beyond studying the problem, often with help from the state or nonprofit organizations, some towns are developing specific strategies and making improvements to lessen those impacts.
Damariscotta, which earlier this year won a $3 million grant to fund waterfront improvements, will use the money to help protect its downtown from rising water levels in the adjacent tidal Damariscotta River, the Lincoln County News has reported.
In Machias, heavy rains and high tides have been known to cause problems at the town’s wastewater treatment plant and to flood a section of Route 1 roughly a mile long where it runs next to the Machias River and across a dike at the mouth of the Middle River.
Last year, the town acquired a riverside motel property on Route 1 and removed the building to help reduce the impact of occasional floods. The town intends to keep the property vacant, and is considering whether to construct a berm or wall of some type on it and adjacent properties to keep water off the road when the river rises, town officials have said.
At the town’s wastewater treatment plant, for several years rising water would occasionally flood an outflow pipe, inhibiting the flow of treated water from the plant into the river. This in turn helped to aggravate local combined sewer overflows — a common problem in many municipalities in which pollution can back up into a storm sewer system and then flow untreated into a nearby water way.
Annalies Hafford of Olver Associates, which manages the plant for the town, said a pump station was installed a few years ago to prevent floods from inhibiting the outflow of treated water into the river, and that more improvements are being planned. To reduce the frequency of combined sewer overflows, which can result in nearby clam flats being closed to harvesting as a precaution, she said the town plans to install another pump on the east side of Middle River to help ensure wastewater flowing toward the plant is not diverted by flooding into the river.
Hafford said the town has been working hard to reduce the sewer overflows, but that such infrastructure improvements are costly and funding is often scarce. Plus, as the climate keeps changing, it is difficult to predict what environmental conditions will be like in a few years and to come up with reasonable solutions for those potential problems.
“We’re chasing a target that is growing” in its scope, she said. “We’ve had some 8- or 9-inch rainstorms. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”