New Bill Would Tighten Water Quality Standards Around Tribal Lands

May 30, 2019

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is attempting to establish new water quality protections to allow sustenance fishing by Maine's Native American tribes.

In the Aug. 2017 file photo, the East Branch of the Penobscot River flows over Pond Pitch in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, in northern Maine.
Credit Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo

The governor's bill is also designed to ease tensions between the tribes and the state over whether tribal waters should have more strict pollution standards than other waters because the state's native people have long depended on them for fishing.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Chief Jerry Reid told the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee that the governor's bill will not immediately resolve that dispute or the underlying issue of mercury contamination, but, he says, "it's a statement to the tribes that we take their concerns seriously."

Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for Penobscot Nation, told the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee that the proposal is an important first step to allowing the tribes to safely consume fish from their waters.

"We would love to get to the point where we can healthily live off fish like our ancestors did," Dana says.

The bill sets standards for designated tribal waters that would allow roughly seven ounces of fish to be safely consumed each day. The current water quality standard for all bodies of water in Maine allows for about eight ounces of fish per week.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency would have to sign off on the new standards if the bill becomes law.

Originally published May 29, 2019 at 5:08 a.m. ET.