Celebrating 50 Years of Clean Water on Maine’s Androscoggin River

Decades ago, Maine’s Androscoggin River was so polluted that water was depleted of oxygen, killing millions of fish. The river emitted a strong odor that resembled rotten eggs. Industrial facilities discharged dyes that discolored the waters. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, this river was one of the country’s ten most polluted rivers.

Today, Maine residents and visitors can use this body of water for a variety of recreational activities, including boating, fishing, and in some areas, swimming. These improvements can be attributed in large part to the passage of the Clean Water Act 50 years ago. Maine Senator Edmund Muskie, who chaired the Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution, championed this landmark legislation, which established standards for discharging to water sources and developed water quality standards.

Additionally, at the local level, John Nutting, a member of Maine’s House of Representatives, introduced a color, odor, and foam bill, which aimed to improve the smell and clarity of the river by having paper mills filter tree resin from their discharge. Nutting also passed bills in 1996 and 2004 to ban the discharge of dioxins and strengthen regulations of his previous color, odor, and foam bill.

Major strides have been made to improve the water quality of the Androscoggin River but works remains to be done. Some sections of the river remain polluted, largely due to pulp and paper mills. These mills discharge high quantities of pollutants such as phosphorus, which depletes oxygen and causes algae blooms that make swimming impossible.

Although work remains to improve the river’s water quality, it is important to note that the river is the cleanest it has been in the last century. The river, which was once a landmark to be avoided, is now a desirable location for commercial and housing developments. Lewiston Rowing held its second annual Riverfest Regatta on the Androscoggin in 2022.

Additionally, a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act was held along the banks of the Androscoggin in late September this year. More than 200 people attended to honor 100 Clean Water Champions from throughout the state and recognize the significant improvements to water quality in the last five decades.

“Today on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we recommit to protecting our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans from pollution,” said Governor Janet Mills at the celebration. “We recommit to preserving our clean water, to protecting public health and to safeguarding this precious state of Maine.”

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