Narragansett Bay haunted by stormwater, trash, global warming

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Special Halloween fact sheet release

Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center

Providence, RI – Today, Environment Rhode Island released Frightening Facts about Narragansett Bay, a Halloween fact sheet that compiles ten of the most “scary” realities facing Rhode Island’s most iconic waterway.

“Narragansett Bay has come a long way in recent decades, but some problems remain and new ones are emerging,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. “Making matters worse, for more than a decade, loopholes in the Clean Water Act have left Narragansett Bay vulnerable to polluters.”

The Halloween-themed fact sheet comes on the heels of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announcement of its intention to move forward with a rulemaking to restore Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands across the country. The rule could close loopholes that leave 54% of Rhode Island’s streams unprotected––many of which feed into Narragansett Bay, as well as drinking water sources like the Scituate Reservoir.

“I applaud Environment Rhode Island for their work at the local level to highlight the importance of preserving the Narragansett Bay for future generations of Rhode Islanders,” said David Cicilline, U.S. Representative for Rhode Island’s first congressional district. “This fact sheet underscores some statistics that should be alarming to anyone concerned with protecting the environment, and I hope they will encourage action by lawmakers to strengthen environmental standards, fight global warming, and improve energy efficiency in Rhode Island and across the nation.”

The fact sheet details “scary” issues facing Narragansett Bay. Some of the most “terrifying” include:

•    14% of Narragansett Bay’s watershed is covered with impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and rooftops. When rain hits impervious cover, instead of filtering into the ground, it picks up pollutants and carries them through waterways out to Narragansett Bay. This runoff includes chemicals and pollutants from roads and pavement, bacteria and nitrogen from animal waste, and trash.

•    Volunteers along Rhode Island’s coast picked up 8094 plastic bags, 7186 plastic bottles, 12,755 caps and lids, 6169 plates and pieces of disposable cutlery, 1486 balloons, and 43,023 cigarettes and filters in a recent Ocean Conservancy cleanup. Plastic trash in Narragansett Bay threatens wildlife and will take up to hundreds of years to break down.

•    Sea level in Narragansett Bay has risen 10 inches since the 1930s, and if global warming continues unchecked, the rate is only expected to increase going forward. Coupled with more frequent and severe storms brought by global warming, changes like these pose a severe threat to coastal communities.

“The good news,” said Jones, “is that forward thinking lawmakers and advocates are working to address water quality issues at municipal, regional, state, and national levels.”

“Improving our water quality in Providence enhances the quality of life for our residents and the experience for our visitors,” said Providence Mayor Angel Taveras. “We are working to develop long-term regional solutions to add more green infrastructure projects that will prevent flooding and improve water quality in our rivers, ponds, and Narragansett Bay.”

At a national level, the EPA is taking public comments to gather information on the science connecting our smaller streams and wetlands to larger bodies of water. For a decade, polluter-driven Supreme Court cases have created confusion over the scope of the Clean Water Act, throwing protections for smaller streams and wetlands into legal limbo.

“From Narragansett Bay to the rivers and tributaries that flow into it, Rhode Island families rely on clean water to stay healthy,” said Sylvia Weber, who handles government relations for the Rhode Island State Nurses Association. “The Clean Water Act has played a key role in keeping Rhode Island waters safe for swimming, fishing, and other activities. The EPA and Congress can make sure the Clean Water Act protects all of our waterways into the future.”

“Environment Rhode Island thanks members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation for standing up for clean water,” said Jones. “Support in Congress is critical to preventing further efforts to weaken Clean Water Act protections and helping the Obama administration restore protections to waterways that feed Narragansett Bay.

“It’s time to give Narragansett Bay the Halloween treat it deserves,” Jones concluded. “That’s to end the polluters’ tricks. We thank the EPA for taking the first step forward to protect our waters. The Obama administration should finish the job and ensure that Narragansett Bay and all our waterways will be less scary for future Halloweens.”