Gov. Janet Mills has signed an amended version of a bill to provide members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe greater access to clean drinking water.

The governor signed L.D. 906 just 10 days after tribal members staged a rally outside the State House in Augusta demanding that they be given access to better drinking water. Demonstrators said the tribe’s current source is unhealthy and unsafe.

Under the law signed Thursday, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point will be able to drill wells on sources of groundwater located on tribe-owned land without seeking state approval.

In her announcement, Mills said the amended law builds on work already undertaken by her administration, the tribe, the local water district and the federal government to install a water treatment system this summer that is expected to improve water quality for Pleasant Point as well as the towns of Eastport and Perry.

“Members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik, like all people in Maine, deserve access to clean, safe drinking water,” Mill said. “This legislation will build on our efforts to ensure that they get it. I thank the Passamaquoddy people for their collaboration on this law, which demonstrates that we can make progress for all when we work together.”

Mills had threatened to veto the initial version of the bill, citing concerns that the bill would create two regulators for a water district that not only serves the tribes, but neighboring towns as well. Lawmakers recalled the bill and made changes to clarify that the tribe has no jurisdiction over the local water district and that tribal members could not force the district to improve drinking water standards.


Established in 1983, the Passamaquoddy Water District, a nontribal entity, provides drinking water not only to the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, but also to Perry and Eastport.

Drinking water is drawn from Boyden Lake, and the district treats and distributes an average of 200,000 gallons to 618 year-round customers. In testimony this year, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged the challenges of maintaining water quality in a shallow waterbody like Boyden Lake. The agency noted the existence of high amounts of organic material that changes rapidly with wind and rain.

The amended version of L.D. 906 exempts the property of the Passamaquoddy Water District from taxation by municipal governments and authorizes the use of two parcels of tribally owned land to be used as a groundwater supply. It also clarifies that the federal Environmental Protection Agency, not the state, has the authority to regulate drinking water standards on Passamaquoddy territory.

Other water districts in the state are already exempt from property taxes. But the Passamaquoddy Water District’s charter contained a specific provision making it subject to property taxes assessed by Eastport and Perry.

In an interview with the Press Herald this month, Passamaquoddy Chief Maggie Dana said generations of residents have been harmed by dirty, unsafe drinking water, which at times appears and smells offensive. At other times, the water is heavily chlorinated, she said, to “clean up animal feces,” creating a public health hazard.

“This is a clear violation of our human and civil rights,” Dana said. “Our culture is clear: Water is life. And for the Passamaquoddy people at Sipayik, it is poison.”

The clean water bill, sponsored by Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Rena Newell, garnered a broad range of community support, including from the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association and the Conservation Law Foundation.

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