| AWWA Member Spotlight – Paul Thomas Hunt, Portland, Maine
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AWWA Member Spotlight – Paul Thomas Hunt, Portland, Maine

Paul Thomas Hunt supports Portland Water District’s involvement in the Sebago Clean Waters partnership, which recently received an $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conserve 10,000 acres of forest land and fund other watershed protection projects.

Paul Thomas HuntJob title and employer: Environmental Manager, Portland Water District (PWD)

Education and certifications: B.A. Geology & Chemistry, University of Maine at Farmington (UMF); M.S. Geology, University of Oregon; Maine Certified Geologist; Licensed Class 2 Water Operator (distribution and treatment); Licensed Class 3 Wastewater Operator

Job duties: I manage the Environmental Services group at our water and wastewater utility, including security and emergency response, source protection, industrial pretreatment (wastewater), environmental education and outreach, and two accredited environmental laboratories.

Describe PWD’s work with Sebago Clean Waters: In 2000, the nonprofit Lakes Environmental Association asked PWD to help conserve a wooded property in the watershed of Sebago Lake, our water source. Our board contributed $10,000; then came other requests from watershed land trusts. PWD adopted a policy to support local efforts to conserve watershed forests, which naturally filter our water. After more requests and donations, our Board decided to go from supporting these efforts to actively advancing conservation. The Board adopted a Watershed Land Conservation Program through which PWD contributes up to 25% of the cost of a conservation transaction in the watershed.

After several regional conservation and resource protection organizations offered to help us, in 2017 we all formed a coalition called Sebago Clean Waters (SCW), which has since protected nearly 2,000 acres of forest with the help of public and private donors.

How did PWD support efforts to apply for the RCPP grant? When we learned that Congress had earmarked 10% of a portion of the Farm Bill to benefit sources of public drinking water, we felt it was meant for efforts like ours. The partners within Sebago Clean Waters vary in size and expertise and all bring something the others don’t. PWD brought decades of experience successfully managing federal dollars. We often get federal grants and loans for infrastructure and other types of work, and our finance director Sebago Clean Watersembraced the prospect of properly managing another $8 million.

In addition, our water resources specialist, Laurel Jackson, has managed PWD’s forest conservation projects for many years and worked with other partners to grow SCW. She navigated the challenging application process for the RCPP grant. There were times it seemed to me she understood the program well enough to run it – but let’s hope they don’t hire her away! (Pictured with members of Sebago Clean Waters, Hunt, third from right and Jackson, fourth from right)

How does PWD’s conservation program benefit its operations and communities? Sebago Lake, our source of drinking water, is rare in that it’s exempt from the filtration requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act because of its outstanding quality. The watershed is 235,000 acres in area and is 84% forested. Almost 90% of the watershed land is privately-owned and subject to development pressure. A key component of our source protection strategy is to work with willing landowners to conserve watershed forest land. We like to think of conserved watershed forests as a filtration plant you can hike on.

In addition, Sebago Lake is multi-use and a treasured vacation destination. The communities surround it want to preserve their historic rural character. Hunters and anglers need forested land to support wildlife and fisheries. Many of the lands are working forests and provide jobs and supply forest products to mills. Forested land is more resistant to the effects of changing climate.

What advice do you have for other utilities seeking source water protection support? The most important thing I’ve learned in more than 20 years of lake protection is that it requires the cooperation of many people and organizations. Our latest Watershed Control Program annual report lists more than 120 organizations that we partnered with last year.

Why did you get involved with the water sector? Though I love Earth history and still read a lot of geology, after grad school I felt that investigating things that happened, say, 400 million years ago was very removed from day-to-day life. Environmental science seems to be the place where Earth history intersects with people. After a few jobs in private industry, I was hired by the Maine Drinking Water Program and later PWD. I really love that what we do impacts people right here, right now.

How have you benefited from your involvement with AWWA? We have made key contacts that have helped advance our work by participating in AWWA training and attending and presenting at AWWA conferences. We were recognized for our source protection efforts after being nominated by the Maine Drinking Water Program. The process of reviewing the AWWA Source Protection standard during the application process helped us recognize ways to improve our program. Chi Ho Sham (AWWA President-Elect and member of the Association’s Source Water Protection Committee) and Tracy Mehan (AWWA Executive Director of Government Affairs) have been sources of inspiration and advice for many years.

Paul Hunt with familyDescribe your family and hobbies: I’ve been married for 38 years to Pat Red, a special educator. We met three weeks into our freshman year at UMF. We have three daughters – one in medical school, one working on a Master of Social Work degree and the third a teacher trying to manage a second-grade classroom during a pandemic, which is a lot to ask of a 25-year-old. I play guitar, have recorded three albums of original songs and am working on a fourth. No one buys them so fortunately I have a day job.

What would people be surprised to know about you? When I was about 10, three other kids and I were playing with matches and managed to set fire to an acre or two of woods. Luckily, the fire department put out the fire. A song on my first record, Spooky Pines, is about that day. I hope my work with Sebago Clean Waters can serve as reparations of a sort for that childhood mistake.