Persistent Contaminants Stress Island Waters

The stream that runs into Easton’s Beach in Newport, R.I., from a moat across Memorial Boulevard, often contains bacteria, especially after heavy rains, that can close the popular beach to swimming. A UV treatment system installed several years ago has helped reduce closures. (ecoRI News)

The stream that runs into Easton’s Beach in Newport, R.I., from a moat across Memorial Boulevard, often contains bacteria, especially after heavy rains, that can close the popular beach to swimming. A UV treatment system installed several years ago has helped reduce closures. (ecoRI News)

By ecoRI News staff

AQUIDNECK ISLAND, R.I. — On a weekly basis from 2008 to 2016, Clean Ocean Access (COA) volunteers and staff collected 3,593 water samples at seven popular swimming locations and at two likely source areas of enterococci bacteria.

While year-to-year variation may occur due to a variety of circumstances, overall water quality has improved but elevated and persistent bacteria levels are still present at some locations, according to COA’s recently published 2008-2016 Water Quality Monitoring Summary Report.

The 48-page report notes that these impairments must be addressed by a combination of gray and green infrastructure solutions, and efforts by all island residents to transform the built-landscape into an environment that absorbs stormwater runoff and reduces pollutant loading into recreational waters.

For its water-quality work, which receives funding from the city of Newport to cover laboratory fees, the Middletown-based nonprofit focuses on island locations that are known for swimming and ocean activities, although not all locations are necessarily recognized as designated swimming areas.

Year-round COA testing is done at:

Easton’s Point (Middletown): This location is a popular area for ocean activities including kayaking and spear-fishing. The purpose of testing this location is to establish a baseline and public awareness of coastal water quality.

Easton’s Beach (Newport): This location is a main attraction for the city. The testing location is halfway between the rotunda and the stream mouth.

Ochre Point (Newport): This location is a popular area for ocean activities including fishing and body surfing. This location is a wave-swept exposure on the western point of Easton’s Bay facing the open ocean and helps to provide baseline data for the water quality of Easton’s Bay.

Marine Avenue Beach (Newport): This location is a popular swimming spot. The city has invested time and effort to establish the public right of way to the shoreline.

Kings Park Swim Area (Newport): This location is a popular swimming spot for previous generations. The purpose of testing at this location originally was to provide a baseline for re-opening the beach and now it is to provide insight into the current water quality throughout the year.

Elm Street Pier (Newport): This location is a popular swimming spot, especially for children.

Van Zandt Pier (Newport): This location is a popular swimming spot, especially for children.

Easton’s Stream (Newport): This location is one of the likely primary sources of enterococci affecting Easton’s Beach. The moat collects runoff from both Newport and Middletown. The city of Newport installed a UV disinfection system to treat the water prior to flowing into the ocean, to kill the enterococci.

Esplanade outfalls (Middletown): The north location is one of the likely primary sources of enterococci affecting Easton’s Beach. The outfall contains stormwater runoff that is discharged on the far eastern rocky coastline of Easton’s Bay adjacent to the Atlantic Beach Club Beach via a 36-inch-diameter steel pipe. The town of Middletown combined the flow from this pipe and the south location and moved the stormwater about 1m000 feet offshore via a diffuser system in 2014.

The COA’s water-quality monitoring program is a citizen-science initiative designed to empower the community and provide monitoring data for a sound water-quality management plan that includes regular water-quality testing, timely identification of point and nonpoint source of pollutants, and effective remediation.