SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Chris Gilday loves the ocean more than just about anything.
The longtime Mainer commercially fished out of harbors up and down the state's jagged coast for decades. Now, his job is to protect the water that sustained him.
Working for the nonprofit Friends of Casco Bay, Gilday pumps sewage out of boats, captaining the aptly named Headmaster, a specially designed boat with an exterior bilge pump.
For those with boats large enough to hold a toilet, its end product must go somewhere.
Federal law, including the Clean Water Act, prohibits anyone from dumping sewage into no-discharge zones, of which Casco Bay is one.
Gilday remarked at how much the bay has cleaned up since his early days as a fisherman.
"Back around ’86, ’87 in this bay, you couldn’t even see that kelp," he said, pointing to some kelp growing just below the waterline near a dock.
After a two-year COVID hiatus, Friends of Casco Bay's pump-out program has returned for the summer.
"The kids that live in our communities, they’re gonna be inheriting what we leave behind," Will Everitt, the nonprofit's executive director, said.
Since the pump-out program began in 1995, Everitt said, they’ve disposed of 254,000 gallons of wastewater from boats in Casco Bay.
The program offers drive-up service as far north as Harpswell at $10 for 20 gallons of waste.
That's a steal, thanks to Pam Parker at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. She appropriates grants to help fund programs like Friends of Casco Bay.
"What we do is try to make it easy for boaters to do the right thing," Parker said.
Her department prefers to use a carrot instead of a stick. The breaking of discharge laws are hard to prove, let alone enforce, she explained. Instead, the department greatly subsidizes organizations and municipalities that run pump-out programs, trying to make it as accessible as possible.
According to the Maine DEP, raw sewage from one average-sized personal boat could cause as much pollution as a treated sewage from a plant that serves 10,000 people.
When the department started the program, Parker remarked, there were about 23 pump-out stations along the entire coast of Maine. Now, she counted 104. The Maine DEP website has a map of each location in the state, as well as links to resources from each coastal New England state and New York.
Boaters in Casco Bay can signup for service on the Friends of Casco Bay website.
Our ocean is vast, but not endless. In one corner of Maine's iconic coastline, there are folks working to keep it beautiful.
One flush at a time.