Reservoir Project Preaches Phosphorous Awareness

By ecoRI News staff

The Moswansicut Reservoir phosphorus project, an 18-month initiative to use education, outreach and volunteerism to reduce reservoir pollution, is making progress in the communities of Scituate, Glocester and Johnston, R.I.

The project is  being led by the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District (NRICD), in partnership with Providence Water, the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission.

Although the Scituate Reservoir system has historically been clean, a 2013 study by ESS Group Inc. found that the health of the Moswansicut Reservoir is at risk because of phosphorus loading from its watershed. Phosphorous is a nutrient that is essential for plant life, but can encourage the growth of algae and aquatic weeds when present in large concentrations.

The 2013 study suggested that education and outreach efforts in the watershed community could reduce phosphorus pollution by as much as 5 percent, which would help preserve the Moswansicut’s value as both a wildlife habitat and water supply.

“Over 60 percent of Rhode Island residents are dependent upon the Scituate Reservoir for their drinking water,” said Gina DeMarco, NRICD’s district manager. “As central areas within the watershed develop, stress from increased lawn fertilization, septic system use and wildlife such as geese are threatening the now-pristine state of our water supply.”

Although phosphorus can enter waterbodies from many sources, some likely causes of phosphorus pollution in the Moswansicut Reservoir include pet and farm animal waste, pollution from Canada geese and seagulls, and lawn fertilizers.

“Phosphorus pollution is a growing threat to the health of the Moswansicut Reservoir that has implications for the larger water supply system,” said Christopher Riely, forest supervisor for Providence Water. “This partnership project is proving to be an excellent opportunity for testing strategies to educate watershed residents about this issue and engage them as partners in protecting water quality.”

The project began in April with a series of event, including a low-input lawn-care workshop, a well-water workshop and a volunteer event where tall grasses were planted to discourage Canada geese from congregating at Moswansicut Dam.

Future events will include a Sept. 12 tour of Providence Water’s land surrounding the Moswansicut Reservoir and several community question-and-answer workshops. Additionally, 10 volunteers are collecting monthly samples from streams in the watershed. The samples are being analyzed by URI Watershed Watch for phosphorus content, to help identify areas where outreach and education is most needed.