Earlier this month, the Maine Legislature, in a show of strong bipartisan support, issued a joint resolution sponsored by Rep. Teresa Hayes, D-Buckfield, calling on the U.S. Congress to restore funding under the federal Clean Water Act, so that the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program can continue to monitor the health of Maine lakes.

Since the establishment of Section 319 of the Clean Water Act in 1987, Maine has received funding to help address the threat of polluted runoff, the type of pollution responsible for declining water quality in many Maine lakes, and annual algal blooms (green, scummy water) in several Maine water bodies.

A recent vote by the U.S. Congress to cut funding for the Clean Water Act significantly limited the types of activities eligible for funding under the 319 program. Monitoring and assessment were among the activities cut.

Without monitoring and assessment, it is impossible to scientifically track changes in water quality, measure the results of conservation practices, or detect problems in lake health before irreversible damage occurs.

In Maine, most of the work of monitoring the health of our lakes is done by more than 1,000 volunteers who are trained, certified and supported by the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. Maine uses the data collected by the volunteers to help manage and protect thousands of lakes in the public domain. Maine’s citizen-based lake monitoring program is the oldest, and one of the largest, programs of its kind in the nation.

Information collected by trained citizen-scientists has been shown to be equivalent to that of professional lake scientists, but can be done at a fraction of the cost. The lake monitoring program has saved Maine taxpayers millions of dollars over the past four decades. Maine lakes are vital to the state’s economy, annually generating more than $3.5 billion in economic activity, and 50,000 jobs.

By issuing this resolution the Legislature has acted to preserve Maine’s cost-effective lake monitoring program. By doing so, it also acknowledged the vital contribution of the hundreds of volunteers who are working to keep an eye on the health of these extraordinary, irreplaceable natural resources.

Scott Williams is executive director of the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program.

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