A new report, done by Watershed Counts, says Warwick might have the worst beaches in Rhode Island.
Watershed Counts is a collaborative initiative by the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island (URI) and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.
The 33-page, 2014 Watershed Counts Annual Report, executive summary, focused on the need to continue funding programs and initiatives that combat pollutants and reduce the danger to our beaches. Although the state has seen some improvements in water quality throughout Rhode Island, the report assured that there needs to be continued efforts to keep the quality at a high standard and improve.
One of the major issues facing our beaches is climate change. Temperatures and sea levels are rising, and we are seeing more frequency in storms, the report says.
“Climate change is no longer the encroaching villain of the future –it is here now. We are already experiencing increased temperatures, sea level rise and stronger storms, and these changes will only get worse in the coming decades. However, we can take action now to adapt and prepare for them with plans for and investment in coastal resiliency,” the report reads.
Judith Swift, director of the Coastal Institute at URI, said, “Our beaches will be the bellwether of climate change. Not only will we lose beaches due to sea level rise, but increased precipitation will add additional pollutants to our beaches from stormwater runoff. Investing in our beaches will ensure that future climate change events can be minimized and the public can continue to enjoy a trip to the beach.”
The report, released Monday, emphasized the economic need to keep beaches clean and healthy. Tourism, fishing and shellfishing are major industries throughout the state. They are dependent upon the quality of Rhode Island’s waters.
The report said, “Our watershed counts because the Narragansett Bay watershed region is not only the lifeblood of our community, it is the major source of our livelihoods and economic prosperity.”
Watershed Counts’ report cites positive actions taken by different cities as well as those inactions throughout the state.
Janet Coit, the Director of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), said, “Using green infrastructure and other best management practices to protect beach water quality is paying off. DEM welcomes the opportunity to partner with cities and towns to enhance what is a time-honored Rhode Island tradition: enjoying a glorious day at the beach.”
Some of the improvements are Newport’s $6 million investment into an ultraviolet treatment plant or Bristol’s $1.5 million stormwater upgrades. Both Providence and Fall River invested $575 million and $160 million, respectively, to build storage tunnels and minimize the amount of pollutants running into the bay. Governor Lincoln Chafee and the General Assembly also approved a $53 million bond to help clean Rhode Island waters and create initiatives to combat and prepare for climate change. It will be on the 2014 Rhode Island ballot.
“The Watershed Count Report provides an important spotlight on the water quality of our invaluable beaches and the fact that keeping beaches open requires monitoring and investment,” Chafee said. “The voters of Rhode Island have an opportunity to support additional investment in water quality improvements this November by voting for a bond that is targeted to those issues.”
Despite all of the efforts, some cities lag in clean water initiatives. The report had case studies for numerous municipalities.
Warwick has approximately 40 miles of coastline and 70 acres of beach and some of the highest beach closing rates in the state. In 2013 the total number of closures was 111 days. Warwick accounted for more than half of those days alone with 58 days with beaches closed.
The Department of Health created a list with all of the state closures from 2000 to 2013. Four of the six beaches with the highest reports of closings are Warwick beaches.
Atlantic Beach Club in Middletown had the highest number of closures at 47 with 105 days closed. Conimicut Point Beach was runner-up with one less closing, but 230 days closed. Oakland Beach and Goddard Memorial Park followed in 3rd and 4th places. City Park Beach finished out the top six with 31 closings and 119 days closed. Three of these beaches are in Greenwich Bay, an area of water that automatically does not meet water quality standards after high bacteria rain falls.
The report said that this is most likely due to Warwick’s dependence on onsite water treatment sites and cesspools. Seventy percent of the city properties have access to connect with sewers, but 13 percent of those properties have not connected yet.
The Greenwich Bay Special Area Management plan, started in 2005, required Warwick to have residents tie in accordingly.
The report said, “While plans to address these issues have been in place since 2005, the progress to extend sewers and connect septic systems and cesspools has not kept up pace with the goal of connecting all possible properties by 2015.”
The report acknowledges Warwick’s effort to combat the high closure rates.
With the Warwick Sewer Authority and the $56 million bond to extend sewers, improve treatment facilities and install flood protection, all relatively new initiatives, the report says Warwick may be able to escape the highest closure rates in Rhode Island.
Although there are foreseeable improvements, Watershed Counts implores the state and its citizens to continue funding measures to clean and protect Narragansett Bay as well as promoting high water quality standards.
For more information on climate change visit www.riclimatechange.org. A digital copy of the report can be downloaded from www.watershedcounts.org.