PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP/WPRI) — Environmental groups say Narragansett Bay and its watershed are getting healthier, but big challenges still remain in urban areas around New England’s largest estuary.
The University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program released their 5th annual Watershed Counts Report at an event Monday morning.
Jonathan Stone, executive director of the advocacy group Save The Bay, said in a statement that waters around the region’s biggest cities, including Providence and Pawtucket in Rhode Island and Taunton and Fall River in Massachusetts, still lack public access and continue to experience poor water quality throughout the year.
Stone told Eyewitness News it is important to support government efforts to help improve conditions.
“One of the things we can do as a community is highlight success stories, and ring the bell and hold the government accountable to do its role,” Stone said.
Experts say progress has been seen in the Combined Sewer Overflow project (CSO).
“Really dramatic increases in water quality from the CSO tunnel have led to bacteria levels going down, and that means that urban beaches that historically closed could open in the next several years,” said Tom Borden of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.
In fact, the first licensed urban beach in Rhode Island could soon open in East Providence, according to officials. Other improvements, like the deconstruction of dams along the Taunton River, have kept the city safer from flooding, but also enabled fish to spawn in the river once again.
According to Stone, climate chance continues to be a constant battle and increased intensity of rainstorms are an issue.
“Those flooding events threaten local communities along the waterways. They also bring a lot of pollutants into Narragansett Bay,” he said.
Increased nitrogen levels, debris and other contamination are now making it into the bay and decreasing water quality. Experts say poor water quality can render the bay uninhabitable for certain species of fish.
“I think this report is a great example of success that is also a call to action of what we need to be thinking about to make real progress going forward,” Stone said.