072919 WES Winnapaug Pond closed shellfishing 5.JPG

Old shells litter of one of the access paths to Winnapaug Pond used by shell fishermen on Monday, July 29, 2019. The RI DEM is closing the pond for shellfishing. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — The state Department of Environmental Management and the state Department of Health announced Wednesday that that all waters of Winnapaug Pond that were affected by last week’s emergency closure will reopen to shellfishing at sunrise Thursday, Aug. 1.

The closure took effect Friday, after water samples collected last week had unsafe bacteria levels, probably caused by stormwater runoff from the more than 3 inches of rain that fell on July 22 and 23, the agencies said. The health department also initiated a recall of shellfish harvested either commercially or recreationally since July 23.

On Monday, DEM collected water samples to test for fecal coliform bacteria, and the results were available Wednesday. The health department's laboratory analysis indicated that the pond is now suitable for the harvesting of shellfish. Aquaculturists such as Watch Hill Oysters can resume normal operations of their leases.

DEM, on Monday, said it planned to arrange a meeting with town officials to review stormwater management in Misquamicut. Heavy rains wash material, including animal waste, off of roadways and other surfaces into water bodies such as the pond. The town has an underground drainage system that filters stormwater from a neighborhood in Misquamicut before it is discharged into the pond. Town crews also discharge water that accumulates on Atlantic Avenue during storms into a gravel and earthen section of the Town Beach parking lot. The water eventually runs into the pond. Both practices could contribute to unsafe bacteria levels, DEM officials said this week.

The departments also announced that waters of Point Judith Pond in Narragansett and South Kingstown that were affected by last week’s emergency closure will also reopen to shellfishing at sunrise today.

Shellfishing remains restricted in the waters of Point Judith Pond that are classified as prohibited or seasonally closed. Status of emergency closures and of the conditionally approved areas of Upper Narragansett Bay, Greenwich Bay, Mount Hope Bay, and the Kickemuit River may be obtained 24 hours a day by calling DEM’s shell fishing hotline at 401-222-2900. Shellfish area maps are available on DEM’s website at http://www.dem.ri.gov/programs/water/shellfish/.

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