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slides: Rhode Island’s Most Polluted Lakes, Ponds + Reservoirs

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Summer may make one dream of crystal clear lakes perfect for swimming, or teeming with healthy fish. But for the 28 lakes, ponds and reservoirs categorized by Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management (DEM) as "impaired," that summer dream is just that--a dream.

Those bodies of water all fall under DEM's "Category 5", the lowest-quality definition of water, which means that the waterbody is "impaired or threatened for one of more designated uses by a pollutants, and requires a TMDL," according to DEM.

Why track water quality + reporting

Under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states, territories, and authorized tribes are required to develop lists of impaired waters. These are waters that are too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by states, territories, or authorized tribes. The law requires that these jurisdictions establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop TMDLs for these waters. A Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.

DEM's list, available fully online, here, must be compiled every two years, and the latest updates were published by DEM in August 2012. The listing "reflects the dynamic process of managing the quality of the state's waters," according to the report. "Because many of the state's waterbodies are impaired for multiple parameters, waterbodies may still appear on the list despite improvements." So while one impairment may have been eliminated, DEM explains, others may still be present.

Progress and how to see it

"There are different ways to measure the progress," said Elizabeth Scott, Deputy Chief in the Office of Water Resources at DEM. "One way is to prepare the plans that are required under the Federal Water Act (we continue to have water quality restoration plans and have completed a total of 134 distinctly water bodies). We are well under way to restore our state's waters but the big challenges is to implement the necessary actions. The big challenge is on storm water management and especially, on urban storm water issue."

Scott said that DEM is calling upon municipalities to address runoffs from roads. "We are beginning to see some signs of improvements," she said.

Runoffs are a major threat to RI's lakes and ponds, according to Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Bay Keeper for Save The Bay. "Ponds and lakes are low points on the land," he said. "Most of the runoff eventually reaches the Bay but much of it gets trapped in the ponds and lakes. Most runoffs can cause impairments--to swimming, fishing, and drinking water."

Storm water runoffs can carry nutrients, bacteria and toxins such as metals and oils, Kutcher said. "Bacteria is dangerous for swimming and can lead to beach closures," he said. "Nutrients runoff can lead to algae that's toxic and eutrophication."

Kutcher said that Save The Bay is working to minimize or even reverse the impact of runoff, working with municipalities and "trying to get them more responsible for their storm water runoff," he said.

Both Kutcher and DEM's Scott agreed that every Rhode Islander can help reverse the impairment of these ponds, lakes and reservoirs, with simple changes in behavior. "There are really steps that everyone can take to prevent further degradation," Scott said. "Clean up after your pets. If you apply fertilizer, you only apply how much you need and it doesn't touch the pavements, and don't overwater your lawn."

To see which ponds, lakes and reservoirs in Rhode Island remain on DEM's Category 5 list, see below.


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