Season’s First Beach Closure Provides Pollution Reminder

By ecoRI News staff

BARRINGTON, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Health, on June 7, announced the first beach closure of the season. Barrington Town Beach was closed for the day because of high levels of entercocci bacteria, which is found in high concentrations in human and animal feces.

Beach closures in Rhode Island are a preventable summer-season reminder about the significant role that stormwater runoff plays in the water quality of Narragansett Bay and its watershed, according to Save The Bay.

Every time it rains, stormwater runoff from roads, parking lots and other hard surfaces carries with it debris, pet and animal waste, oil and other pollution to both freshwater and saltwater bodies throughout the bay’s watershed. This contaminated stormwater closes beaches, because high levels of fecal bacteria and leads to algae blooms caused by excess nutrients, such as nitrogen.

Cities and towns that have installed municipal sewer connections and other stormwater improvement projects at and around their beaches have seen improved water quality and fewer beach closures. The Narragansett Bay Commission’s combined sewer overflow abatement program — a system of tunnels beneath Providence that stores a mixture of sewage and stormwater during heavy rains — also has resulted in dramatically reduced beach closures.

“At Barrington Beach, the town of Barrington has been working to redirect stormwater runoff from neighboring streets into areas where it can filter into the soil instead of flowing directly into the bay,” Save The Bay habitat restoration coordinator Wenley Ferguson said.

In partnership with Save The Bay, the town also reduced the size of its parking lot, planted beach grass in place of the asphalt, and is working on other projects to infiltrate runoff before it flows down to the beach.

Still, closures continue, and runoff pollution remains a preventable byproduct of human behavior, according to Save The Bay.

“Besides local runoff, Barrington Beach is also impacted by runoff from further up in the bay,” Ferguson said. “Everything flows downhill, and what we do in our own backyard — no matter how far from the bay we live — can contribute to the beach closures that keep our communities from enjoying one of this state’s most wonderful natural resources.”

Individuals can help reduce runoff pollution, and thus, help prevent beach closures, with several simple behaviors, courtesy of Save The Bay:

Redirect downspouts onto lawn and garden areas, to reduce the amount of water running off the land and into storm drains.

Minimize use of fertilizers, which contribute excess nutrients and cause algae blooms.

Pick up after pets, even in one’s own backyard, to reduce the amount of fecal bacteria in our waters.

Don’t feed ducks and geese; their waste adds bacteria and excess nutrients to runoff.

Avoid overwatering lawns with sprinkler systems and using excess water in washing vehicles.

Collect rainwater in rain barrels, and leave grass clippings on the ground to help lawns retain moisture.

Don’t use storm drains for pet waste, grass clippings, leaves, road sand, cigarette butts, paint, oil, cleansers or any other substance — these are not treated before washing out to the bay.

Keep septic systems in working order, to prevent wastewater from contaminating groundwater and surface waters.

Replace cesspools, which leach raw sewage into groundwater.

Support efforts by municipalities to fund the projects that can reduce and treat runoff pollution.

“Rhode Island has made great progress in cleaning up Narragansett Bay, but beach closures are a wake-up that there is more to do,” Ferguson said. “Citizens, cities and towns, and the state can all play their part in protecting and improving Narragansett Bay and ensuring we have a swimmable, fishable bay for all.”