PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With some of Maine's wastewater treatment systems using parts that date back to the Civil War, state officials welcomed $29.7 million in federal loans and grants announced this week to maintain municipal sewage systems and even build a new one — but one called those needed projects just "the tip of the iceberg."
Maine towns estimated they need more than $1 billion for wastewater projects in the next 20 years, according to a 2012 assessment by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Realistically, that money is necessary in the next decade, said John True, environmental engineering services manager at the DEP. Maine received a failing grade from American Society of Civil Engineers in an evaluation last year of the nation's wastewater infrastructure.
But Maine's need for funds dwarfs what's available, said Virginia Manuel, director of the state branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development. "In a way, this is like the tip of the iceberg in terms of impact in Maine," she said of Tuesday's announcement about the federal money.
Many of Maine's systems are from the '70s and '80s, and some have components made out of brick and granite that date back to the Civil War. The very oldest systems, while sturdy, are often outdated and tend to be replaced only when they fall apart, True said.
Most of the funds are going to replace sewer mains, pumping stations and aeration basins, which help break down organic matter.
Projects paid for by the funds could reduce sewage overflow that can spread waterborne illnesses and hurt wildlife by depriving lakes, rivers and the ocean of oxygen, according to USDA officials.