How Clean is RI’s Beach Water—New Ranking
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Rhode Island’s percent of beachwater samples exceeding the state’s daily maximum bacterial standard has varied since 2007: 8% in 2007, 15% in 2008, 20% in 2009, 8% in 2010 and 7% in 2011. The data was derived from 65 samples, which have been monitored each year from 2007 to 2011.
Not good enough--Narragansett Baykeeper
“People are starting to realize that urban runoff is a significant pollutant and something that needs to be dealt with,” said Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper, regarding Rhode Island's water quality performance. “We [Rhode Islanders] should not be pleased [with 7% of beachwater samples exceeding national standards]. It should continue to improve.”
Any improvement is positive--Dept. of Health
“I think that any improvement is positive improvement," said Amie Parris, Beach Program Coordinating at HEALTH. "The percent of exceedances has dropped each year in the past five years, which is very positive for Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay." Parris thought RIers should look at the cup of beach water as half-full, not half-empty. “I think maybe instead of happy, we should be optimistic about the progress thus far. Every year, more cities and towns in the state are working to reduce contamination and fix sources of pollution.”
Worst and best beach water in RI
Recent projects at Easton’s Beach, Bristol Town Beach and the Urban Beach Initiative, represent three levels of effectiveness in dealing with runoff pollution issues.
Easton's Beach: Seaweed Harvesting and Ultraviolet Stormwater Treatment
In the summer of 2009, Easton's Beach in Newport County began using a seaweed harvester to remove excess seaweed from the beach. In 2011, beachwater quality improved when 800 tons of seaweed were removed. “Removing seaweed only improves the quality of the swimming experience and may lower bacteria levels at the user interface,” Kutcher said, “but it does little to reduce the pollution itself.” Next, a $6 million ultraviolet treatment system was installed to destroy bacteria in stormwater discharges. By the end of the summer of 2011, a storm drain was relocated. In 2011, all samples of stormwater entering the treatment system exceeded water quality standards and all samples of runoff met standards. Treatment of the runoff can remove the pathogens and other pollutants before entering surface waters. Water quality testing showed that another source of bacterial contamination is impacting Easton’s beach between the treatment device and the outfall to the ocean. Further work will be conducted to find and eliminate sources of contamination.
Bristol Town Beach: Green Infrastructure and Sewage Overflow Reductions
Green infrastructure techniques at Bristol Town Beach allow stormwater to filter into the ground instead of running off into the ocean. “Such practices let storm water infiltrate into the ground, where pathogens and other pollutants can be naturally treated and filtered through the soils; this is the most sustainable and effective method because runoff is eliminated or reduced,” Kutcher said. Future plans include upgrading the sewage treatment plant near the beach and installing underground tanks that will store rainwater during heavy storms. With the alterations, rainwater will be stored and released slowly to the sewage treatment plant when rainfall is not heavy.
Urban Beach Initiative
The Urban Beach Initiative launched in 2010 in part to discover if there are safe areas for swimming in the upper Narragansett Bay. Efforts include working with EPA to survey underwater hazards and implementing of the CSO project phases. The CSO project includes three phases. The Phase I facilities included the installation of the tunnel and tunnel pump station, which treated millions of gallons of combined water and wastewater that would have gone straight into Narragansett Bay. Phase II facilities consist of the construction of two interceptors to reduce the discharge from combined sewer overflows. Phase III should be completed in 2014. “This [the CSO project] is a huge effort to deal with combined sewer and storm water pollution in our urban center,” Kutcher said. ”Other municipalities are beginning to take actions to address storm water pollution as local awareness continues to grow.”
“The Health Department was part of all of these projects so we’re happy that the towns and state were able to implement these initiatives,” Parris said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how water quality improves in the coming years.”
Trending in a good direction
The NRDC analysis represents a general upward trend in beachwater quality in Rhode Island. “There is a growing awareness of the need to manage stormwater,” Kutcher said. “People can have a positive effect by reducing runoff on their own properties by letting rainwater infiltrate rather than diverting to the street.”
It is important for Rhode Islanders to get involved to help water quality, Parris said. The public can do things such as picking up after pets and not feeding birds at the beach. “I think it's inevitable that big strides toward clean water will continue to be made in our State,” Kutcher said.
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