[SOURCE: The Westerly Sun]

By Cynthia Drummond Sun staff writer
June 18, 2017

WESTERLY — Envious residents of the towns on Little Narragansett Bay looked on recently as shellfishing areas to the north that had been closed for 70 years were reopened. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management announced the expansion of shellfishing grounds in upper Narragansett Bay at the end of May, but Little Narragansett Bay closures remain in effect because of continued contamination.

DEM Director Janet Coit attributed the expanded access in the upper bay to tougher pollution laws and a combined sewer overflow abatement project, which captures and treats sewage and other pollutants before they enter the bay.

“This is a momentous day for Rhode Island, a day we celebrate progress in restoring water quality, and welcome shellfishermen back to historic waters,” she announced. “I look forward to our continued work together to reduce pollution and address other threats to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have access to a healthy and productive Narragansett Bay.”

Save the Bay South County Coastkeeper David Prescott welcomed the news, but he noted that continuous investments in infrastructure are needed to control runoff in Little Narragansett Bay.

Angelo Liberti, chief of surface water protection in the DEM’s Office of Water Resources, explained why Upper Narragansett Bay has had three long-standing shellfish closure areas.

“Providence and Central Falls and Pawtucket had a really old, combined sewer system, and where stormwater would combine with sewage into the same set of pipes,” he said. “If it was a small amount of rainfall, it would go on to the wastewater treatment plant for treatment, but as the storm got larger, the system got overwhelmed and a mixture of raw sewage and rainwater would discharge right into nearby rivers and to the bay.”