Westerly awarded nearly $60,000 in water quality grants for work with Save the Bay

Westerly awarded nearly $60,000 in water quality grants for work with Save the Bay


WESTERLY — The town will use a $57,884 grant award announced today by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission to identify, prioritize, and implement water quality improvements in Little Narragansett Bay and the lower portion of the Pawcatuck River.

The grant will support the town’s work with Save the Bay to identify pollutant sources and develop a plan in an initial study area that will include the downtown area. The plan will include recommendations of both structural and non-structural water quality improvements and an interactive map showing results. The town agreed to contribute $24,956 toward the cost of the project as part of a match requirement.

The grant to Westerly is one of 11 projects in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to receive a total of $815,000 for projects aimed at protecting and restoring water quality in the Narragansett Bay Watershed.

“The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program is very pleased to award grants to municipalities and nonprofit organizations who are taking concrete steps to help protect and restore the water quality in the Narragansett Bay watershed,” said Judith Swift, chair of the Estuary Program’s Management Committee.

Town staff will work with project parters Save the Bay and VHB, an environmental engineering firm based in Watertown, Mass. to develop ways to reduce bacteria, high nutrient loads, poor water clarity and low dissolved oxygen concentrations. The project will identify sources of pollution including illegal discharge into the river and bay.

Town Planner Marilyn Shellman played an important role in developing the grant application, according to Tom Borden, Narragansett Bay Estuary Program executive director.

David Prescott, Save the Bay South County coast keeper, recently rated Little Narragansett Bay’s overall health at a six or seven on a scale of 1 to 10. He warned of “significant stressors” that could cause a further decline.

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

Swift praised the work of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) to help garner federal Environmental Protection Agency funds used for the grants.

A Total Maximum Daily Load analysis conducted by the state department of Environmental Management in 2011 calls for steps to reduce bacteria levels in the lower Pawcatuck River, Little Narragansett Bay and Mastuxet Brook.

The federal Clean Water Act and Environmental Protection Agency mandates that states develop TMDL plans for waterways that do not meet water quality standards. TMDL refers to the maximum amount of pollutant a body of water can have and still safely meet water quality standards.

The grant application indicates pollution in Little Narragansett Bay and the lower portion of the Pawcatuck River limits shellfishing and recreational uses of the waters. In related news, nearly $800,000 in grants were also approved to fund six projects in the Buzzards Bay watershed as part of the EPA’s Southeast New England Program.

Another round of funding from the Southeast New England Program is on track for 2016. On Dec. 9, EPA issued a press release seeking initial proposals for a grant program of up to $7 million over the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years to fund projects that will improve coastal water quality and habitat. The request for initial proposals seeks projects that implement innovative restoration and protection approaches, provide strategic collaboration and regional impact, integrate habitat and water quality improvement, and focus on connectivity and ecosystem services and functions. Initial applications are due Jan. 22.


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