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NARRAGANSETTâAlthough Rhode Island is aptly named âThe Ocean Stateâ in regards to being home to the largest deep water bay on the East Coast, as well as its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the stateâs water system is much more complex than we often think. Numerous streams, reservoirs, lakes and rivers cut through the landscape, and underground wells provide drinking water for much of the western and southern parts of the state.
Scientists and journalists gathered this past Friday at the University of Rhode Islandâs Bay Campus to discuss issues facing Rhode Islandâs water supply, from quality concerns to usage and conservation.
The Narragansett Bay Watershed consists of 2,066 square miles in area, with approximately 984 square miles, or 48 percent, within Rhode Islandâs borders. Two million people in 100 municipalities call its coastal and riparian surroundings home, enjoying recreational activities at beaches, as well as benefiting economically from its bounty.
The Watershed Counts report, which has been released every April since 2011, is a collaborative effort of state and federal agencies, as well as local research centers to compile and analyze all of the stateâs water quality challenges and successes.
âWe come up with collaborative efforts on important questions, such as how clean is the water or what are the changes in land use over time,â said Meg Kerr of Watershed Counts. âThere is a lot of nuance to [the report] and a lot of areas where we havenât collected the data.â
âOur goal is to boil all this complicated science into a report card of trends and how we are doing managing parts of the watershed,â she added.
Speakers touched upon the stateâs efforts in protecting water quality in both marine and fresh water environments, particularly those stemming stormwater run-off and pollution into Narragansett Bay.
Sue Kiernan of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management outlined the stateâs monitoring capabilities in freshwater lakes and ponds, stating that of the 1,420 rivers in Rhode Island, approximately 65 percent, or 917, have been assessed. Of those assessed waters, 60 percent are considered impaired.
She further noted that 56 percent, or 8,545 acres of the stateâs lakes and ponds, are impaired from a total assessed number of 15,281 acres, according to RIDEMâs latest report which analyzes data gathered from 2007 to 2012.
âManagement is needed across the board to prevent problems,â said Kiernan. âFixing these problems takes a long time, and can take decades.â
âI think we need better measures of partial progress along the way, and we need to better communicate with the public.â
Water scientists have been especially concerned about the increased prevalence of blue-green algae blooms, which are formed from iridescent blue-green algae called cyanobacteria, in the stateâs rivers and lakes.
âIt looks like someone poured green paint in the water,â said Elizabeth Scott of RIDEM. âThe first case occurred on Yawgoog Pond in the late 90s and the next one in 2007, but since we have been seeing it every year.â
Scott emphasized that some strains of cyanobacteria release toxins which can also be harmful to terrestrial animals and people, noting that there have been cases when pets have died from exposure to the bacteria.
According to Linda Green of Watershed Watch, the cause of bacteria problems in Rhode Islandâs lakes and streams stem from rising annual temperatures alongside the inputting of pollutants, namely phosphorus, a common indicator of impaired waters.
For the rest of this story and more local news, pick up the Wednesday, July 17 issue of the Narragansett Times.