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Protecting Waterways Both Moral Imperative and Good Business

YORK — Our family-owned, local hardware stores have garnered some headlines recently – not for what we put on sale, but for what we don’t.

We joined the community of Ogunquit in supporting a pesticide ban and have removed chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers from our shelves, making room for more organic and natural products. Ensuring a healthier environment for our children and grandchildren requires effort by every one of us, including the business community.

Last year, residents of the town of Ogunquit passed a pesticide ordinance that intends to “conserve and protect the town’s groundwater, estuarine, marine and other natural resources, while ensuring preservation of the land.” We have all pledged – business community and individual residents alike – to take meaningful steps to reduce the pollution of our waterways by controlling what we put on our lawns, gardens and other surfaces.

Eldredge Lumber in York and Kittery Ace Hardware no longer sell systemic neonicotinoid insecticides (the largest-selling insecticides in the world). We have also decided not to sell Round-Up herbicide (the largest-selling herbicide in the world). In 25 years in the lawn and landscape business, we have not seen one problem in the home landscape that cannot be solved with sound organic practices.

There are, of course, reasonable exemptions: for the application of flea and tick medicines for our pets; for swimming pool supplies and other residential activities; as well as for commercial agriculture production.

This kind of community leadership is an important step toward protecting public health and the environment. To ensure the full protection of Maine’s waterways, we also need to protect their sources.

Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have done just that. The clean water rule, finalized last month, clarifies which waterways are subject to Clean Water Act safeguards.

Several confusing Supreme Court rulings in the 2000s had raised questions about the EPA’s jurisdiction and created legal loopholes that that made headwater streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution. These waterways, which provide drinking water to communities downstream, had been protected under the Clean Water Act when it was signed into law by President Nixon in 1972. Now, they’re protected again.

In finalizing the clean water rule, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have restored protections for the sources of drinking water for one in every three Americans. In fact, more than 1,264 miles of Maine streams that feed into our drinking water supplies (the distance from Bangor to Chattanooga, Tennessee!) had been vulnerable to pollution – until now.

The new clean water rule closes these loopholes and ensures that the protection of the Clean Water Act again extends to the streams that become the rivers and lakes that supply our drinking water, bird baths and lawn sprinklers. It, too, contains reasonable exemptions for everyday agricultural production practices and related activities.

Protecting these small streams and wetlands also protects fish and wildlife habitat. This is important for bird-watchers, hunters, anglers and Maine’s outdoor businesses, from our long tradition of intrepid outdoor guides to local employer L.L. Bean.