Save the Bay seeks town’s help to aid waterways; pollution control needed

Save the Bay seeks town’s help to aid waterways; pollution control needed

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — Save the Bay is calling on the Town Council to join its campaign to mitigate the effects of pollution and enforce environmental regulations to protect Little Narragansett Bay and the Pawcatuck River.

David Prescott, the environmental advocacy group’s coastkeeper, rated the bay’s overall health at a six or seven on a scale of 1 to 10 during a recent appearance before the council, and warned of “significant stressors” that could cause a further decline.

A seven-year study of the waterways revealed elevated bacteria levels, high nutrient loads, large thick mats of macroalgae, poor flushing in shallow coves and decreased dissolved-oxygen levels.

The study involved taking water samples two times per month, from May to October, at three locations in the river and three locations in the bay. The samples were analyzed and processed at the University of Rhode Island.

The macroalgae problem is particularly bad along the river-bed surface in the area between Sandy Point and Barn Island. The area is already largely devoid of marine life and shellfish. The material under the macroalgae or seaweed smells like rotten eggs, Prescott said.

“It is not a place that most animals would want to inhabit,” Prescott said.

Sandy Point has moved about 300 feet to the north, closer to Barn Island, during the past 25 years. As the area between the two land masses has decreased, Prescott said the natural flushing process that normally occurs has diminished.

The greatest contributor to the stressors affecting the two waterways is stormwater runoff from the many impervious surfaces in the downtown area. It is during wet weather that water samples show the most problems. Stormwater carries trash, oil, gasoline, fertilizer and animal waste into the river and the bay, Prescott said.

Save the Bay is working with Town Planner Marilyn Shellman and Amy Grzybowski, director of code enforcement and grant administration, on a grant for the development of a stormwater management plan for the downtown area. Vanasse, Hangen and Brustlin (VHB), an environmental engineering firm, is also working on the grant.

Tofer Hamblett, director of advocacy and policy for Save the Bay, said the call to action is not intended to cast blame or to point fingers. Instead the advocacy organization is inviting town officials, residents and property owners in Westerly and Stonington to join together to improve the health of the two waterways.

Save the Bay is recommending seven steps as part of its call to action: develop comprehensive stormwater management; develop enforceable regulations; advocate for state and local laws to protect the waterways; promote personal responsibility related to lawn care, feeding waterfowl and pet clean-up; protect, restore, and improve wetlands, coastal barriers and eelgrass beds; invest in monitoring pollutants; and develop a water-circulation model to inform management decisions that affect Little Narragansett Bay.

Councilor Christopher Duhamel said the council’s Public Works Committee should work on developing steps to improve stormwater management. Council President James Silvestri suggested putting stormwater management recommendations in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.


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