Beginning with Habitat


Comprehensive Planning

1. Guide | 2. Required Elements | 3. Topic Areas | 4. Plan Topic: Water Resources | 5. Plan Topic: Critical Natural Resources | 6. Plan Topic: Transportation | 7. Crafting a Future Land Use Plan | 8. Regional Coordination | 9. Example Comprehensive Plans

BwH Highlighted Topic: Water Resources

State Goal:

Undeveloped Shoreline

To protect the quality and manage the quantity of the State's water resources, including lakes, aquifers, great ponds, estuaries, rivers, and coastal areas.

Legislative Requirement:

The Act requires that each comprehensive plan include an inventory and analysis of:

Significant water resources such as lakes, aquifers, estuaries, rivers and coastal areas and when applicable, their vulnerability to degradation.

In addition, the Act requires that the implementation section of the plan:

Protect, maintain and, when warranted, improve the water quality of each water body pursuant to Title 38, chapter 3, subchapter I, article 4-A [the part of state law that establishes water quality classifications] and ensure that the water quality will be protected from long-term and cumulative increases in phosphorus from development in great pond watersheds.

Please Note:* below indicates some of the minimum conditions and trends data, analyses and key issues, policies, and strategies that are outlined under the Comprehensive Plan Review Criteria Rule. The information provided below addresses only the habitat-related requirements and offers additional suggestions. Visit the Comprehensive Plan Review Criteria Rule for a full list of minimum requirements.

Conditions & Trends:

Beginning with Habitat (BwH) data included in Map 1 Water Resources & Riparian Habitats can assist your community in collecting condition and trends data. Map 1 Water Resources & Riparian Habitats includes water features such as rivers, streams, brooks, lakes, ponds, coastal waters, and wetlands, as well as riparian habitat, the transition zone between aquatic habitats and upland areas. Water resources and riparian areas provide important habitat for many types of plants and wildlife and they provide essential services such as water quality protection and flood control. Map 1 also includes watershed boundaries, drainage divides, significant aquifers, impervious surfaces, public water supply wells, and drinking water source protection areas. The combination of the data layers on Map 1 will better enable your committee to consider water resources and existing development patterns holistically. By analyzing Map 1 you can see the interconnected nature of surface waters. You can also see which areas in town have the greatest relative percentage of impervious surfaces. This information will help your committee to better predict how these areas and any future growth in them might affect down stream resources through flooding or non-point source pollutants. Non-point sources are those inputs of contaminants or sediment that cannot be traced to a single pipe or "point", but result from stormwater sheet flow over impervious or unstable land surfaces. Non-point source pollution threatens water resources as contaminants flow downstream collecting in streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal areas reducing water quality. From Map 1 you can best evaluate what water resources should be considered priorities for greater protections such as buffering or increased setbacks. You can also better evaluate how many first order streams exist within town that may not currently receive local protections. Minimum standards under the State's Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act only require the protection of second order streams and larger. In addition, Map 1 can also help you evaluate where public access to recreational water resources is lacking. Analysis of the water resources and riparian areas is useful for identifying potential wildlife corridors as well, which are essential to maintaining habitat connectivity. Riparian areas provide important travel corridors for many of Maine's species. Furthermore, Map 1 also includes information related to drinking water protection and can help you identify potential threats to the drinking water resources in your community as well as opportunities to protect these resources. Ultimately, the information presented in Map 1 should help to inform decisions regarding growth, rural and critical resource zone designations and should be a key consideration in future land use plan (FLUP) discussions and your resulting committee recommendations.

Analyses & Key Issues:

To best identify the key issues that relate to water resources, consider the following questions during committee review efforts:

  • *Are there point sources (direct discharges) of pollution in the community? If so, is the community taking steps to eliminate them?
  • *Are there non-point sources of pollution related to development, agriculture, forestry, or other uses that are affecting surface water resources and riparian areas? If so, are existing regulations sufficient to protect these resources?
  • Are sources of pollution primarily related to development, or primarily related to agriculture, forestry, or some other activity? Are recreational or commercial fisheries threatened? Can sources be addressed through land use regulation?
  • *Are public groundwater and surface water supplies and their recharge areas adequately protected? Are any public water supply expansions anticipated? If so, have suitable sources been identified and protected? Where are your communities significant aquifers located and how will future development patterns likely affect these areas? How can these areas receive adequate protection?
  • Is there growing coastline or lakeside development that raises concerns for future water quality? Are there adequate land use controls in place for such development? Is rapid development in any one watershed resulting in notable changes in stream habitats?
  • What is your community's capacity to enforce land use controls, for example, erosion control and other measures that may be required of developers through site plan review or a subdivision ordinance? The best ordinance does little good if it can't be enforced. This is especially true of efforts to control nonpoint sources of pollution, where measures must be preventive to be effective.
  • Do you share water resources with neighboring communities? Lakes, streams and rivers often cross town borders and will best benefit from shared management and protection efforts.
  • *What non-regulatory measures can the community take to protect or enhance water quality? Are there opportunities to partner with local or regional advocacy groups that promote water resource protection?
  • *Do local road construction and maintenance practices and standards adequately protect water resources? Do public works crews and contractors use best management practices in daily operations (e.g. salt/sand pile maintenance, culvert replacement street sweeping, public works garage operations)? Runoff from roads can significantly degrade water quality and poorly designed crossing structures such as culverts and bridges can affect water flow, water quality and the connectivity of habitats for aquatic species.
  • *Are floodplains adequately identified and protected? Does the community participate in the National Flood Insurance Program? If not, should it? If so, is the floodplain management ordinance up to date and consistently enforced?
  • To what extent are riparian zones protected? Riparian areas provide important habitat for many of Maine 's species and are important travel corridors for much of Maine 's wildlife. They are also important for filtering runoff and protecting water quality of the aquatic areas they buffer. To what extent are corridors extending 75 to 250 feet back from streams - especially first order, more vulnerable streams - intact or broken up by development? Are riparian zone buffers maintained in a natural condition? Has the character and quality of streams through these zones changed? Have fisheries in your town been impacted as a result? Do these streams outlet to commercial shellfish flats? Is local enforcement capacity inadequate to protect these areas? Could additional protections of riparian areas benefit habitat connectivity and at the same time possibly support recreational trail networks?
  • To what extent have sensitive wetlands and other water resources been incorporated onto land use maps or considered in local ordinances? Should the municipality rely on federal and state laws and regulations only to protect these resources or should the municipality adopt supplemental measures to better protect these important resources with local review authority?


Possible policies drawn from the planning committee's answers to the analysis and identification of key issues, might include policies:

  • *To protect current and potential drinking water sources.
  • *To protect significant surface water resources from pollution and improve water quality where needed.
  • *To protect water resources in growth areas while promoting more intensive development in those areas.
  • *To minimize pollution discharges through the upgrade of existing public sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities.
  • *To cooperate with neighboring communities and regional/local advocacy groups to protect water resources.
  • To protect important riparian habitats.


Once policies are agreed to, your committee will develop strategies to meet policy objectives. In some communities, a major need related to water resources may be to remedy point sources of pollution. Strategies in this case may address upgrading a sewage treatment plant, extending sewer lines to correct septic system problems, or separation of the storm water collection system from the sanitary sewer system. If so, implementation strategies should indicate planning, engineering, funding, and construction steps to be taken. For most rural towns which do not foresee a need for a sewer treatment plant, implementation strategies should focus on policies to control nonpoint sources of pollution. In general, this will include land use controls. Some options for land use strategies are: (specific examples of many of these strategies can be found in the Tools and Financing Habitat Protection sections.)

  • Amend local shoreland zoning ordinance to meet or exceed state minimum standards to better protect water resources. Augmenting your local shoreland zoning ordinance can go a long way to better protecting water resources. Current minimum state standards leave some gaps in the protection of resources, for example, wetlands smaller than 10 acres in size, forested wetlands, and first order streams are left without protective measures under minimum standards.
  • *Amend local land use ordinances as applicable to incorporate stormwater runoff performance standards consistent with: a. Maine Stormwater Management Law and Maine Stormwater regulations (Title 38 MRSA 420-D and 06-096 CMR 500 and 502; b. Maine Department of Environmental Protection's allocations for allowable levels of phosphorus in lake/pond watersheds; c. Maine Pollution Discharge Elimination System Stormwater Program. Regulations to control storm water runoff, the transport of phosphorus, and similar sources of pollution resulting from new development are often in the form of performance standards. Performance standards set a measurable requirement as to how a piece of land will "perform" after development. The developer must demonstrate how the standard will be met. For example, the standard for storm water runoff might require the rate of storm water runoff after development to be no greater than the rate prior to development for a 25-year storm (a storm with a 1 in 25 chance of happening in any year) of a given duration. The developer must show how, through use of buffer strips, detention ponds, or other means, the standard will be achieved.
  • *Update the floodplain management ordinance to be consistent with state and federal standards.
  • *Consider amending local land use ordinances, as applicable, to incorporate low impact development standards. Tools, such as larger setback requirements, strengthened vegetation removal standards within setbacks, increased buffering around brook trout streams, inclusion of first order streams in local land use ordinances, and encouraging open space subdivision approaches to subdivisions in sensitive watersheds where designated open space augments current buffer requirements, may be necessary to meet the community's identified water quality objectives.
  • *Where applicable, develop an urban impaired stream watershed management or mitigation plan that will promote continued development or redevelopment without further stream degradation.
  • *Enact public wellhead and aquifer recharge area protection mechanisms, as necessary.
  • *Make water quality "best management practices" information available to farmers and loggers.
  • *Adopt water quality protection practices and standards for construction and maintenance of public roads and properties and require their implementation by the community's officials, employees, and contractors. Runoff from roads can significantly degrade water resources. The Maine Department of Transportation can provide your community with best management practices and standards for construction and maintenance of roads that will better protect water resources.
  • *Participate in local and regional efforts to monitor, protect and, where warranted, improve water quality. Watershed protection groups, water districts and land trusts exist throughout the state and can be important partners for communities in projects related to water quality protection.
  • *Provide educational materials at appropriate locations regarding aquatic invasive species. Your town's Conservation Commission can be responsible for implementing this strategy.

Next: BwH Highlighted Topic: Critical Natural Resources

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