Public Water Systems in Maine

Maine is a rural state. Rather than having a few big city water systems, Mainers get their water from many small and mid-sized public systems in addition to private wells. In this post we provide information about the different kinds of public water systems that students will need as they map drinking water quality.

Kinds of Public Water Systems

Every year, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) publishes a report about public water systems in Maine. Reports for the past five years and other information about drinking water are available on the Maine CDC website. The information and images below are taken from the 2018 Drinking Water in Maine report. The report provides information about drinking water without being too technical and will be a useful resource for many students.

The figure below shows the four kinds of public water systems in Maine. (An interesting question that you might ask students is what do the sizes of the different segments in the pie chart represent? Put another way, how did the person making the chart decide how big to make each segment? Interestingly, the Maine CDC report does not provide a caption that answers this question. But, it is not too hard to figure out.)

Image showing the kinds of public water systems in Maine.
Kinds of public water systems in Maine. (from 2018 Maine CDC report.)

The Maine CDC also offers a description of the different types of systems that has more pictures and information about the people that each type serves, but less information about the numbers of systems and the number of people served.

The 2018 report also provides the following facts about the relative use of wells (groundwater) and lakes and ponds (surface water) as water sources.

Maine has nearly 2,000 public water systems that rely on groundwater and surface water sources around the State. Approximately 94% of Maine’s public water systems rely on groundwater. However, 48% of the population is served by public water systems that use surface water bodies as their drinking water source. (p. 7)

This quotation might provide an opportunity for students to think about numbers and percentages. How can it be that almost all the systems rely on groundwater, but almost half the people are drinking water from lakes and ponds?

Why this Information Might Be Useful to Students

Crowd the Tap Maine (CTTM) provides students with opportunities to think spatially and to learn how to look beyond what they can see everyday (water coming out of a faucet) to explore the systems behind those everyday things. Understanding that that drinking water does not always come from one big place (the “city”) but also from many different sized systems is part of that learning about spatial arrangements. For schools located in areas where there are heterogenous water sources, identify, classifying, and mapping the different water systems might be a useful first step toward deeper inquiry.

The 2018 Drinking Water in Maine report also contains information about the water quality sampling, testing. and reporting that is required for for the different kinds of public water systems. The students in CTTM are also sampling, testing, and reporting on water quality.

How is the work that the students are doing different than the sampling, testing, and reporting that is required for public water systems?

This question gets to heart of the CTTM initiative. Where do the people creating the official reports get their samples? Where are the students collecting samples? Why might this difference be important, even though the tests that the students are doing are less expensive and precise?

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