RadioActive 10/15/20: Drinking Water Crisis at Sipayik

Producer/Host: Meredith DeFrancesco

For the Passamaquoddy Nation at Sipayik, public drinking water quality has been an unaddressed problem for decades, causing Tribal members to buy water, fill jugs at a local source, or rely on donations. The Passamaquoddy Water District (PWD) named after, but not run by the Tribe, is a so called Quasi-Municipal District serving approximately 618 households at Sipayik, also known as Pleasant Point, and parts of Eastport. The source of the public water supply, which individual households are billed for, is the local Boyden Lake and its watershed. At issue is water odor, discoloration and a documented high level of trihalomethanes (THMs), a chemical created by the use of chlorine in disinfecting water during the treatment process. As Boyden Lake’s water levels have decreased, increased treatment has been required to offset higher levels of organic matter in the water source. Elevated levels of trihalomethanes have been associated with health issues, including cancer and reproductive problems. Beyond drinking water exposure, trihalomethanes can be absorbed through the skin and inhalation during everyday use of tap water.

After years of inaction by municipal or state entities, and previous efforts by the Tribe blocked, the Passamquoddy is bringing the issue front and center by organizing multi stakeholder meetings, with representatives of the water district, state and federal agencies and the Tribe. Meetings began in January, and some headway is being made to find short, medium and long term solutions for safe drinking water for Sipayik and neighboring Eastport.

The Passamaquoddy underline that their lack of ability to act independently to solve the crisis is compounded by restrictions from the controversial Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act. This includes, the required approval by local municipalities for projects on Tribal so-called “fee land”. Currently, the Maine Legislature is poised to consider long sought changes to the Settlement Act in the bill LD 2094: “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act”, the result of a months long process with Tribal and state representatives, which passed out of the Judiciary Committee in August.

At the end of summer, Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Maggie Dana at Sipayik, Passamaquoddy Representative to the Maine legislature Rena Newell, and Passamaquoddy attorney and water advocate Corey Hinton sat down via Zoom with Sunlight Media Collective, WERU and The Maine Beacon to discuss the efforts to take action on the ongoing problem of safe drinking water.

Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Maggie Dana at Sipayik
Passamaquoddy Representative to the Maine legislature Rena Newell
Passamaquoddy attorney and water advocate Corey Hinton

Today’s program was co-produced by WERU FM/RadioActive and Sunlight Media Collective.