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Maine Legislature Passes Suite of Bills to Protect Maine’s Lakes

The Maine Legislature this week finalized a set of bills intended to protect and enhance water quality on freshwater lakes and ponds. The bills, each passing with bipartisan support, tackle a variety of emerging freshwater issues, including aquatic invasive species, shoreland zoning, and wake boats.

“Our freshwater lakes and ponds are a core part of Maine’s identity,” said Francesca “Ches” Gundrum, Advocacy Director at Maine Audubon, “and the support from the Maine Legislature for these bills indicates a strong desire to keep these resources clean and healthy for our state’s wildlife and generations of Mainers to come.”

The bills passed over the past several weeks include:

LD 2101 – An Act to Strengthen Shoreland Zoning Enforcement
State and municipal shoreland zoning laws help protect water quality and wildlife habitat by limiting development and clearing along the shores of Maine lakes. Some homeowners and developers violate shoreland zoning laws by cutting healthy trees along the water’s edge, removing shrubby vegetation that stabilizes shoreline and helps keep water clean, or by adding jetties, stairs, boat launches, sand, and other features without the necessary permits. Fines may be assessed and paid as the “cost of doing business,” but the damage remains. This bill gives Maine’s towns and the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) a necessary tool to help stop these egregious violators, including the ability to suspend or revoke violator’s permits; and file civil action to recover fees or penalties. This bill was enacted by the Maine State Legislature on April 1, 2024.

LD 2141 – An Act to Enhance Protections for and Better Address Invasive Aquatic Plant Infestations in Inland Waters of the State
Invasive flora and fauna are invading Maine’s lakes and rivers. Invasive fish species and plants—including milfoils, Curly-leaf pondweed, Parrot Feather, European naiad, and others—accidentally introduced to Maine waters disrupt habitat, displace native wildlife, harm quality, and reduce fishing and recreational opportunities, among other impacts. State agencies and hundreds of volunteers across the state work tirelessly to stop the spread, but they need more help. This bill would appropriate $2,000,000 to the Invasive Aquatic Plant and Nuisance Species Fund to address the most serious invasive aquatic plant infestations. LD 2141 is currently on the Appropriations Table.

LD 1342 – An Act to Increase Funding for the Prevention and Control of Invasive Aquatic Species
This bill adjusts the cost of the “Preserve Maine Waters” sticker, which all motorized watercraft must display in Maine, to better fund our state’s natural resource agencies’ work to help combat invasive species. The Maine State Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee unanimously agreed to amend the original bill to include an increase in the cost of these stickers next year by $10 for in-state and $15 for out-of-state boats in order to help generate hundreds of thousands of dollars for this essential work, along with another funding bump in 2028. This bill was enacted by the Maine State Legislature on March 28, 2024.

LD 2284 – An Act to Implement Recommendations in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Report on Wake Boats
“Wake boats” are powerful boats equipped with ballast tanks and other mechanical systems designed to enhance the size of the boat’s wake for wake surfing. The boat’s extra-large waves crash against shorelines with more force than typical watercraft, causing erosion, disturbing sediments, and, sometimes, washing over the nests and eggs of Common Loons. Maine already has a “boater safety zone” law that requires boats to make headway speed within 200 feet of shore, but that distance is not enough to dampen the impact of these new, larger waves. Informed by a diverse stakeholder process facilitated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife held over the summer of 2023, the legislation addresses wake boat-related impacts to wildlife and human communities, including language to prohibit an individual from operating a motorboat in less than 15 feet of water or within 300 feet of the shoreline when the motorboat is engaged in a wakesurfing activity. This bill was enacted by the Maine State Legislature on April 3, 2024.

Maine Audubon is pleased to have supported these bills to protect Maine’s freshwater lakes and ponds, and thanks the Maine Legislature for its support.

Above photo: View over Moosehead Lake, Maine. Photo: Kevin Bovard / Flickr