Cities Helping to Protect Narragansett Bay Watershed

By ecoRI News staff

The health of Narragansett Bay and its two-state watershed continues to improve, but major challenges remain in urban areas, where site-specific efforts to address urban water quality are having an impact.

These projects can and should help drive more, broader and integrated initiatives in upper Narragansett Bay, according to the fifth annual Watershed Counts Report. The 17-page report, titled “Cities by the Bay: The Urban Challenge for the Upper Narragansett Bay Watershed,” highlights challenges to and improvements in the urban environments of the Narragansett Bay watershed.

Here is a look at what is being done in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts to make urban waters in the Narragansett Bay watershed healthier and more enjoyable:

Pawtucket, R.I.: In 2014, the Festival Pier, also known as the Old State Pier, underwent major renovations. The plain, concrete slab of old was rebuilt into a waterfront pedestrian plaza. A handicap-accessible boat ramp and launch area for kayaks and canoes were added.

The $2.1 million restoration project, with received much-needed help from the Pawtucket Foundation, better serves the community by bringing a bit of the outdoors into an urban setting. The new plaza serves commercial and recreational interests, and better supports the annual Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival held in September by the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council.

Taunton, Mass.: In 2005, a State of Emergency was declared and a portion of the city was evacuated because of potential flooding. A storm dropped more than 7 inches of rain in just a few days, resulting in a flood warning the National Weather Service deemed “extremely dangerous.”

But, the primary threat came from the Whittenton Dam on the Mill River. Originally built in 1832, the Whittenton Dam had buckled and a collapse threatened to send a 6-foot-high wall of water rushing through downtown. This wasn’t unprecedented. A similar event flooded part of the city in 1968.

In September 2014, state and municipal officials celebrated the award of $13.2 million for dam-removal projects throughout Massachusetts, including Whittenton Dam. Such projects remove public-safety threats and increase habitat connectivity for native species such as herring and American eel.

Worcester, Mass.: Trees play a major role in the health of urban ecosystems. They help keep cities cool, absorb air pollutants, reduce stormwater runoff and provide wildlife habitat.

In August 2008, the Asian long-horned beetle, an invasive pest, was discovered by a Worcester resident who reported it immediately to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The next day, federal officials arrived on her doorstep to validate the finding and eventually create a quarantine zone to eradicate the beetles.

Since the discovery of the beetle seven years ago, some 34,000 city trees have been cut down and another 1,500 woodland acres cleared to prevent the spread of this invasive pest.

Last year, the Blackstone Headwaters Coalition and the Worcester Tree Initiative teamed up to promote the stormwater benefits of trees. With a $25,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the project will plant 100 trees in two low-income neighborhoods and provide public education on the positive impact of trees on stormwater.