States East of the Mississippi River have long relied on the traditional common law of riparian rights to manage their water resources. Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, rising demand for consumptive water use due to population growth, modern agricultural practices and industrialization began to conflict with environmental concerns. Throughout the East, states recognized the riparian doctrine's failure to provide a reliable means for allocating water during times of scarcity. In response, most of these states replaced common law water rights with regulatory water management systems. Maine is the only state that has not followed this trend. It is not surprising that the issue of water allocation should arise so belatedly in Maine given that its water resources are incredibly abundant. However, increased demand for consumption of the state's flowing waters has diminished their flow. In some areas this impairment has jeopardized critical fish and wildlife habitat. These changes are due to greater levels of water withdrawal for municipal use, agriculture, hydropower, and snow making. In Maine the need for a regulatory water management system has been heralded by an increase in irrigation for crops such as potatoes, cranberries, and blueberries. Recent events involving these agricultural industries in the Downeastern and northernmost regions of the state have made it apparent that business as usual is no longer possible with the our water resources. Rather, as water resources are further limited by the increasing demands of developing industrial and agricultural uses, the need to regulate its consumption in order to further more efficient and ecologically sound management will necessarily lead to a repudiation of traditional common law water rights. This transformation has already taken place in the rest of the Eastern United States. It is now apparent that Maine stands on the same threshold.
Bradford R. Bowman,
Instream Flow Regulation: Plugging the Holes in Maine's Water Law,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol54/iss2/6