Thursday, December 21, 2017

What's going down in Charlestown?

by David Prescott, South County Coastkeeper

Last year, the town of Charlestown was the proud recipient of a multi-year grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Working in partnership with us here at Save The Bay, plus the University of Rhode Island and the Salt Ponds Coalition, the town of Charlestown will use the funding from this Coastal Watershed Restoration Grant for the “implementation of a series of methods to obtain quantifiable reduction and mitigation of nutrient impacts to groundwater and surface water bodies located within Charlestown’s South Shore Salt Ponds Watershed of Green Hill, Ninigret, and Quonochontaug Ponds.”

So…. what exactly are we trying to do with this grant? Well, several things. The town of Charlestown will be upgrading 15 substandard conventional septic systems with newer systems that utilize nitrogen-reducing technology, to reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the salt ponds. The University of Rhode Island will be sampling 50 existing nitrogen-reducing on-site wastewater treatment systems over a three year period and using the results to optimize this technology. The Salt Ponds Coalition will set up two new sampling stations in the highly impacted Green Hill Pond area to analyze and track nutrient impacts. And Save The Bay will be installing six rain gardens within the study area to promote stormwater infiltration and serve as public demonstration projects.
Students planting rain garden at Hamilton Elementary School
Hamilton Elementary School students plant a rain garden
in the school playground with Save The Bay. 

Over the past decade, Save The Bay has been actively working with local municipalities, community organizations, and schools to design and install rain gardens as a way to teach the public about their benefits to our local water bodies – and of course, to reduce polluted runoff. Rain gardens are shallow, planted depressions that soak up 30% more water than traditional grass, absorbing rainwater from roofs, driveways, and other hard surfaces, and keeping it from running into the road and down storm drains. For more information on rain gardens, including great web links, check out page 11 of our recent publication, Bay-Friendly Living: Yard care and lifestyle tips to save time, money and the Bay.

Rain Garden illustration

For the Charlestown project, this past fall, Save The Bay and Charlestown town staff surveyed and ranked several town properties this past fall for possible rain garden locations. The first two rain gardens will be planted this spring. In addition, Bay-Friendly Living will be distributed to homeowners within the study area of this grant.

We’re looking forward to working over the next couple of years with our partners on this Watershed Restoration Grant. Partnerships are so important when trying to tackle complex historic water quality issues within the watershed. Stay tuned for further updates!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Will we fare better than Puerto Rico?

by Mike Jarbeau, Narragansett Baykeeper

The Atlantic hurricane season came to an end as November rolled into December, and for many of us it brought a small sense of relief as the threat of tropical weather wound down. But for many, recovery from the storms that affected major portions of the United States will be measured in years and billions of dollars. As an officer in the Coast Guard Reserve, I was recently sent to one such place, Puerto Rico, where I spent two months assisting with response and recovery operations on the island.
U.S. Coast Guard photo of boat washed up on shore in Puerto Rico after Hurrican Maria
The devastation in Puerto Rico was beyond anything I had imagined. As Hurricane Maria tore over the island, little was spared. Homes and other buildings were leveled. Transportation systems and the power grid were destroyed. Drinking water supplies, wastewater treatment facilities, and other key components of modern civilization simply ceased to exist.

Sound familiar? For many in Rhode Island, the answer is no. While the state has experienced significant storms in recent years, we haven’t been hit by a Category 3 or higher storm since Hurricane Carol in 1954. Carol destroyed thousands of homes and sent more than 14 feet of storm surge up Narragansett Bay into Providence. And only those most seasoned Rhode Islanders will remember the Hurricane of 1938, which killed hundreds, flooded much of the state, and altered the coastal and Bay ecology to such an extent that researchers are still sorting through the effects.

boats washed into condominiums in Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria
While it’s impossible to fully prepare for a major hurricane or emergency, we know they’re inevitable. And we need to do what we can to minimize the short- and long-term impacts. In Rhode Island, we are lucky to have many forward-thinking agencies and institutions looking at the state’s resiliency, or ability of our communities, infrastructure, and environment to recover from disasters. It’s not just storm threats – the Ocean State is changing. Sea level has risen 9.3 inches in Newport since 1930, and the trend is upward, with some estimates predicting another 9 feet of sea level rise by 2100. Narragansett Bay’s average water temperature has risen approximately 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960, and the Bay ecosystem is evolving due to natural and human stressors.

These environmental changes, along with the urbanization of Rhode Island since the 1938 storm, make it difficult to imagine the impact a major hurricane might have on the state. Hurricane models developed at URI have shown that a storm with some of the 1938 and 1954 characteristics could lead to significant flooding in downtown Providence despite the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. Such a storm would undoubtedly have extreme impacts on the Port of Providence’s exposed fuel terminals, scrap metal operations, and the Fields Point Wastewater Treatment Facility, all of which are located south of the barrier.

Resilience isn’t just a buzzword. In Rhode Island, we have the knowledge to begin taking positive steps toward improving the state’s ability to deal with changing environmental conditions and more intense storms. Resilience isn’t something you can develop after a disaster while wondering what to do with the remnants of destroyed homes, impassible roads, failed infrastructure, and environmental disasters. It will take serious planning and political will to make difficult decisions. In September, Governor Raimondo acknowledged the importance of adapting to changing environmental conditions in the state with an Executive Order outlining Rhode Island's Action Plan to Stand Up to Climate Change. The Executive Order directs the establishment of a statewide resiliency plan to help guide Rhode Island’s future resiliency efforts, but only time will tell if those efforts will move beyond paper and into meaningful action.

Coast Guard ship off the coast of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria