Travis Peaslee, plant manager, leans against a rail around the chlorine contact basin last week at the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. The dome in the background is the gas storage tank. The plant is 50 years old this year and is soon to be renamed the Lewiston Auburn Clean Water Authority. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — While he wasn’t around to see it 50 years ago, Travis Peaslee has heard all the horror stories about the filthy condition of the Androscoggin River. One of the most polluted rivers in the country — rated in the top 10 during the 1960s, where untreated sewage flowed into the river.

The pollution was so bad that paint would peel off buildings located near the river.

“There is lots of documented history and pictures,” Peaslee said. “There was visible foam. There was the odor. There was literally paint peeling off of homes. It sounds like it was pretty nasty. And there was little to no recreating on the river.”

A lot can change in 50 years.

A new wastewater treatment plant opened in Lewiston in March 1974 and helped transform the water quality of the Androscoggin River. The Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority is the second largest such facility in Maine. Peaslee has served as its general manager since 2020 and has worked at the plant for the past 15 years.

A progression of water samples, from the intake, left, to what is pumped into the Androscoggin River, sit on a shelf last week at the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“People should realize what we’re truly here to do, which is to clean water,” Peaslee said. “Our mission is to clean all the dirty water. Not just what most people think of as the toilet, but actually all the residential sources. That’s the dishwasher, sink, things that you are cleaning in your home, to the commercial businesses in town. Malls, car washes, that sort of thing. Most importantly, what people don’t recognize is the large industrial sources in the Twin Cities. There are all sorts of things that make up wastewater. Our job is to take that water, clean it and basically improve the quality to discharge and help improve the Androscoggin.”


Gone is the dark and brown foam, the odor and the toxic chemicals. There was not enough oxygen in the water to sustain fish. Reports of paint peeling on nearby buildings have not been heard in years.

A couple of years ago, a group of Bates College science students conducted water quality tests on the river. Peaslee said their independent scientific study revealed what his workers have always known — that water tested below the treatment plant was cleaner than the river water above the plant.

That has led to the state considering reclassifying the Androscoggin from the lowest level Class C to Class B, which would afford it more protections and allow for swimming between the Worumbo Dam in Lisbon and the treatment plant.

Peaslee noted that the level of recreation on the river is growing, especially in the summer. He says a lot more boaters and fishermen are seen on the river.

To celebrate 50 years and its many milestones, facility leaders will soon change its name to the Lewiston Auburn Clean Water Authority to better reflect its role in cleaning up the river.

Peaslee said the term “pollution control” no longer defines the daily mission of the facility.


A scene of the construction of the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility in Lewiston in 1974. Submitted photo


The landmark federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, which ushered in both policy and cultural shifts that led to the rehabilitation of bodies of water across the country. Building the new facility on Lincoln Street began shortly after. An influx of federal funds provided 55% of the money required to build the facility. The state provided 30%, while the Twin Cities provided the final 15%. The price to build the facility was $6 million.

When the plant opened in March, Auburn was not yet connected to the facility as the city still needed to build a pipe under the river along Riverside Drive. Only two areas of Lewiston were connected when it opened — Lincoln Street area and the area near Hillcrest Poultry that once operated on Commercial Street.

In the early years, Hillcrest was the top sewer user and the leading generator of wastewater, sending 600,000 to 1 million gallons of water each day to be processed. The treatment plant in the 1970s had the capacity to handle up to 10 million gallons a day.

The plant’s capacity today stands at approximately 32 million gallons, although it averages handling roughly 11 million gallons each day.

At that time, treatment facility representatives met with the three largest users — Hillcrest, Bates Manufacturing and W.S. Libbey Co. — to help determine the sewer rates to be charged. Earl Tarr Jr., the chairman of the board, was instrumental in bringing the facility up to speed.


Technology has certainly improved over the years, but not as much as one would think, Peaslee said. The science remains the same.

Officials pose for a photo during construction of the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority plant in Lewiston in 1974. Submitted photo

“Wastewater treatment isn’t like anything major here shifted in how we process or treat,” Peaslee said. “It’s become more efficient. Ultimately, it uses a lot more instrumentation. There have been some advances, as far as the efficiencies of things. But overall, wastewater treatment for us is a biological process. Those same organisms have been around since creation. It’s the same thing that happens in Mother Nature. It’s just larger scale here. For 50 years, we’ve been facilitating microorganisms to do the biological treatment.”

Simply stated, as the wastewater passes through the system, each stage removes more organic matter, microorganisms and inorganic compounds, and then treats the remaining water to a level acceptable to go into the river.

At the beginning of the process, water flow mixers help remove floating debris. Air diffusers create turbulence that helps remove sand and other similar particles by using gravity. Once or twice a week the sand is removed from the bottom of the pools.

During the secondary treatment portion, microorganisms operate under high levels of aeration and essentially eat the waste as a food source. The microorganisms are removed and added back into the aeration basins to continue to break down incoming waste in an endless cycle.

Primary clarifiers eliminate grease and other substances floating on top of the water. Plant operators add chlorine into the water to remove the E. coli bacteria in human waste. Once that is completed, bisulfates are added to neutralize the chlorine.


The water is visibly clearer as it moves through the processes before being discharged into the river.

“As you go, you get rid of more and more material,” Lead Operator Warren Burnham said. “It’s a pretty cool process.”

Polymers are mixed with the waste water to help separate the sludge from water in giant tanks last week at the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


One efficiency the cities have pursued to better handle treatment is to separate the underground pipes that carry household and business waste from the pipes that carry storm water runoff from streets.

At one time, they were the same pipes. Because storm water doesn’t need treatment, millions of dollars over the years have been spent to separate the two systems so that only household and business waste goes to the plant, and storm water is sent directly to the river.

However, some of Lewiston’s pipes are still not separated. During severe storms, the mass of storm water coming from those areas can overload the treatment facility, sending watered-down household and business waste into the river untreated.


Lead Operator Warren Burnham stands last week next to the giant pumps and pipes that move the water through the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Peaslee said the facility can treat up to 32 million gallons in a single day at peak capacity, which is not enough to cover the heaviest storms, which can send up to 50 million gallons of water to the facility. That excess has to go somewhere — either overflowing directly into the river untreated or backing up into a customer’s basement.

Why aren’t all of the pipes in Lewiston separated?

“Mostly because the areas that are left (unseparated) are either super ledgey, hard to get to, high-traffic areas and for the most part, under industrial buildings,” Peaslee said “I don’t say they are impossible, but they are very, very challenging to get to to separate. That’s where the storage comes into play.”

During a tour last week, Burnham pointed out that the plant will soon construct a 2.1-million gallon storage tank on its property to help handle some of the potential overflow. With the storage tank, the treatment plant’s capacity will grow to 38 million gallons.

The project is expected to cost approximately $25 million. Area and state officials hope that after its projected completion in January 2026, the holding tank will help bring the Lewiston-Auburn wastewater system closer to its goal of not needing to release overflows into the Androscoggin.

Lab supervisor and pretreatment coordinator Eric Cavers stands in the lab last week at the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority facility on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. “We test at every stage of the process to see where we are in it,” said Cavers. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal



Burnham has worked at the plant for 11 years and his main responsibility is to troubleshoot any potential issue.

Testing is done nearly every day at numerous locations to gauge the effectiveness of each step of the process.

“We test at every stage of the process to see where we are in it,” said Eric Cavers, the laboratory and pretreatment coordinator. “It tells us how happy the bugs are. We have certain parameters that we set up for each stage and adjust accordingly.”

The lab tests provide critical information for Cavers and plant operators to determine what adjustments need to be made.

“It’s neat to see what comes in what comes out,” Cavers said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

The lab also keeps books for all the major corporations in the Twin Cities. That allows the plant to keep historical discharge records to compare with current testing if something seems amiss.

The treatment plant employs roughly 14 people to run the plant 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with the help of automation and remote access.

“It’s super critical that this operation continues to flow because the sources coming in don’t stop,” Peaslee said. “Our job here is to make sure things are flowing, they are flowing right, and they are being treated at all times, whether we are here or not.”

“The system alerts us if it is out of control, and we have people who can respond either physically or log in remotely to watch every aspect of our operations,” he added.

An aerial view last week of the Lewiston Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority site on Lincoln Street in Lewiston. The facility turns 50 this year, the result of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

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