Developing water regulations in Wells, ME

By Steve Bodnar, SeacoastOnline, Aug. 6, 2009

WELLS — Two ordinances written to define who has rights to water — and how much of it — have been at the center of debate in town for months.

However, after one was rejected by voters in May, town officials now only are mulling the other plan: “An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 145 (Land Use) of the Code of the Town of Wells to Regulate the Large Scale Pumping or Extraction of Groundwater, Spring Water, and/or Water From Aquifers Within the Town of Wells.”

RELATED STORY:
Large-Scale Water Extraction
, by Leah Rachin, attorney with Bergen & Parkinson

The lone ordinance on the table is a so-called “regulatory-based” ordinance that establishes protections on water in Wells, in light of any large-scale water extraction that might take place in town.

Large-scale extraction is defined in the ordinance as the total daily amount of 5,000 gallons or more of water withdrawn from any groundwater sources.

That’s about 3.5 gallons a minute, according to Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Wells Water District records — or if someone left a garden hose turned on for an entire day.

The average residential user in the district uses about 200 gallons per day.

According to the proposed ordinance, large-scale extraction would require a permit and approval from the Planning Board only after an interested party provides an application that includes: the applicant’s right and title to the water and interest in the specific property where water would be extracted; a statement of total water withdrawn per day; methods of extraction; proposed use after extraction; and a hydrogeologic investigation conducted by a professional.

The report would need to address flow rates, characteristics of the water source and possible effects that could result as a disturbance, according to the ordinance proposal.

Any extraction would be monitored according to “alert” and “action” levels. The ordinance states that it would be up to the “best hydrogeologic monitoring analysis” to determine such at the time of approval.

Selectmen would have the right to amend or revise those levels, according to the ordinance.

Critics of the ordinance have said they would like to see more specifics on monitoring and extraction, as well as language about international trade agreements, that some contend could override local and state law and make the ordinance useless.

The regulatory-based ordinance is what the town offered as a solution to protecting against large-scale water extraction. It was developed by the Ordinance Review Committee, town attorney Leah Rachin and through some public input over the course of months this year.

The proposal is based on an ordinance from Denmark, Maine, committee members said.

The ordinance’s opponents contend that Nestlé Waters North America/Poland Spring — the source of regional controversy over water extraction — had too great a hand in developing the ordinance in Denmark on which the Wells plan is based.

While town officials in Denmark say Poland Spring representatives did offer input on the plan, it was all done publicly.

Bill Gosbee, chairman of the Ordinance Review Committee, said the plan is much different than the Denmark plan after months of working on it. The two ordinances still share some of the same language and content.

Opponents of the regulatory-based ordinance have also often been supporters of the plan rejected during a May Special Town Meeting.

According to the rejected ordinance, a so-called “rights-based” plan, regulations in it would have stopped corporations like Nestlé Waters North America/Poland Spring from extracting water by explicitly saying so in the ordinance.

Most town officials agreed the plan was “unconstitutional.” Dozens of people from Wells and surrounding communities say the regulatory ordinance is just as “flawed” as the rights-based, and that it doesn’t include enough protections as it stands.