Neither the Warwick Sewer Authority nor the Department of Environmental Management have released test results following breaks in two pipes feeding the Cedar Swamp pump station that released 300,000 gallons of untreated wastewater in the vicinity of Buckeye Brook on Sunday, Aug. 26. Nonetheless, last Friday DEM reduced the area of the emergency closure of Upper Narragansett Bay to shellfishing.
According to a DEM release, the only area of the bay that will remain closed as a direct result of the sewage overflow into Buckeye Brook on Sunday is about a two-mile stretch of the Warwick coast. The closed area includes all waters west of a line extending from the DEM range marker on Conimicut Point in the north to the extension of Ogden Avenue in the Highland Beach area of Warwick in the south.
“It’s the Conimicut Triangle,” said Warwick shellfisherman Jody King of the area. He said the “triangle” has been closed in the past, usually because of heavy rains, and he congratulated DEM for not only opening more waters to shellfishing but also doing it after a careful evaluation of conditions.
“They know the way the tides and currents are moving,” he said, explaining the selective closure. “I can still go to work.”
King said he has confidence that DEM places health first. He notes that the state has an envious record of providing clean shellfish.
“That’s what Rhode Island has been really good at,” he said.
Also on Friday the state Department of Health recommended the continued closure of Conimicut Point Beach for swimming until further notice as well as avoiding contact with waters in Buckeye Brook from Cedar Swamp Road to areas downstream, including Buckeye Brook, Mill Creek and Mill Cove Beach. Fishing and boating in these waters is not recommended.
The Warwick Sewer Authority responded swiftly to the pipe breakages, disinfecting the wastewater spilling from the pipes as it installed bypasses to both breaks. Those emergency bypasses were then replaced with temporary aboveground pipes charged by diesel-powered pumps.
WSA director Janine Burke-Wells suspects hydrogen sulfide gas, which builds up when sewage is allowed to stagnate, deteriorated the two cement pipes that date back to the 1970s. The gas was identified as the cause to a major breakdown at the nearby Cedar Swamp pumping station several years ago.
Burke-Wells anticipates repairs to the two sections of pipe to be completed in about two weeks, nothing like the months it took to fully bring back on line the pumping station.
The new sections of pipe have been delivered to the site. While crews from Brito Construction that will be doing the repairs were not working on the Monday holiday, two WSA staff stood by should a problem such as a bust temporary pipe or pump failure occur.