Do you have a ditch in your backyard? Maine stream standards say it has a good chance of being called a stream by the Department of Environmental Protection. If so, it would be subject to the same laws, regulations and restrictions applied to any Maine river, stream or brook. Sound crazy? Yes, but It happened on my property, and it can happen to you.

The state uses “channel characteristics” to define streams. The quality of incoming water isn’t part of the definition, so ditch channels can qualify as streams under the definition unless the channel is “constructed, or constructed and maintained, solely for the purpose of draining storm water or a grassy swale” (an exemption).

DEP is authorized to use its discretion here, meaning that even water that is primarily storm water can become a stream if the DEP says it is. Suddenly that old backyard ditch is a “protected natural resource” regulated by the DEP.

The Legislature’s Natural Resource Committee oversees Maine’s stream issues, which are administered by the DEP. When the 12 committee members and my local representatives (House District 84, Senate District 14) were asked to remove storm water ditches from consideration as streams, only one legislator responded.

The DEP and legislators appear to support allowing storm ditches to be streams, spending your tax money to do so. Is this what you want from your state regulators? Perhaps it is time to remind them of their duties at the voting booth this fall. Find your legislators in the list below and tell them that fixing problems like this isn’t an option — it’s their job.

Representatives and senators for your town can be found at legislature.maine.gov, while complaints can be filed at www.maine.gov/governor.

Tony St. Peter

Hallowell

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