Great Falls on the Androscoggin River is seen from Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Officials in the Twin Cities have officially put their support behind an effort to upgrade the Androscoggin River water quality classification, which has the state’s lowest rating.

As the state conducts its triennial review of water quality assignments throughout the state, representatives from Grow L+A and the Androscoggin River Watershed Council have been pursuing the upgrade, and have now received support from the City Councils in Lewiston and Auburn. The towns of Brunswick and Durham have also supported the effort.

Peter Rubins, chairman of Grow L+A’s river working group, has argued that the lower Androscoggin River has deserved a Class B rating for quite some time. However, it remains a Class C, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

If ultimately successful, a section of the river between the Great Falls in Lewiston-Auburn and Merrymeeting Bay near Topsham would be reclassified, based on a number of criteria that Rubins said the section of the river has consistently met.

In every year since 2004, the lower Androscoggin River has met Class B standards for dissolved oxygen, and has consistently met other criteria since 2010.

State law stipulates that when the quality of any classified water exceeds the minimum standards of the next highest classification, that higher water quality must be maintained and protected. Class C is the minimum standard, with the scale sliding up to Class AA, the highest standard.

The Auburn City Council on Monday joined Lewiston and other organizations in support of the effort.

The council resolution passed unanimously Monday states, “A clean, healthy river attracts people, new businesses, and increases property value and is an essential component of Auburn’s Strategic Plan.”

It further states that “trained volunteers have collected data that has consistently recorded water quality data along this section of river demonstrating actual Class B standards are being met nearly all of the time.”

The resolution also argues that an upgrade would not have “any significant adverse impact on current industrial uses along the river since Class B conditions have been met for years.”

According to Rubins, the river should be considered a success story, given that at one time it was considered among the most polluted in the country.

However, in 2018, the Department of Environmental Protection recommended that the classification remain at Class C for a section of the lower river between the Durham boat launch to Merrymeeting Bay. Its final recommendation stated that “a number of sources of pollution and stressors exist in the watershed.”

The “stressors” listed by the state are “a total of 14 dams, numerous dischargers, urban centers (including Lewiston, Auburn, Brunswick and Topsham) and significant agriculture.”

Lewiston’s letter, issued on March 26, makes similar statements, and argues that industrial discharge licenses along the river “can be adjusted through cooperative efforts” between permit holders and the state.

Rubins said this week that the application to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection would include support letters from Lewiston and Auburn, as well as organizations representing Lisbon, Durham, Topsham and Brunswick.

An Auburn council memo said the budget impacts to a reclassification are unknown, but estimates it is possible that it could result in more stringent combined sewer overflow and stormwater requirements over time.

“However, the city and (the Auburn water and sewer districts) are already investing in system upgrades and maintenance that have drastically reduced Auburn’s pollutant discharges to the Androscoggin River,” it states.


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