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Release Date: 11/09/1998
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - During a ceremony today at the Edgewood Yacht Club in Cranston, the EPA's New England Administrator John P. DeVillars joined state and municipal officials to announce the awarding of a $275,000 grant to boost water quality monitoring for swimming areas in Upper Narragansett Bay.
The funding will be used to expand water sampling efforts at Upper Bay beaches that are open during portions of the summer and to expand the water testing program to include areas of the bay further north - above Conimicut Point in Warwick - that are now permanently closed to swimming.

The project, which will be implemented over the next two years, will be developed in cooperation with the R.I. Department of Health, the R.I. Department of Environmental Management, the Narrgansett Bay Commission and Save the Bay. Cities and towns bordering the Upper Bay also will participate.

"This grant is a win-win for Rhode Islanders living in Upper Narragansett Bay. It will enable us to do a better job monitoring Upper Bay bathing areas to assure that they are safe and it will allow us to determine whether we can safely reopen swimming areas further north in the bay," DeVillars said. "After investing hundreds of millions of dollars improving water quality in Narragansett Bay, Upper Bay residents should be able to know if and when it is safe to swim in these waters rather than having to drive 45 minutes south to Narragansett or Charlestown."

"Rhode Island beaches are very important to us," added Dr. Patricia Nolan, director of the R.I. Department of Health, which licenses all beaches in Rhode Island. "This grant will help us do a better job of making sure that beaches in the Upper Bay are clean and safe for swimming and other activities. Throughout this project, we'll be working closely with the cities and towns, DEM and Save the Bay to better protect our beaches."

Despite dramatic water quality improvements in recent years in Narrgansett Bay, all swimming areas north of Conimicut Point in Warwick are permanently closed to swimming. The closure is due both to bacterial contamination problems that occur in the Upper Bay, primarily after rainstorms, and to a lack of a comprehensive water monitoring program for this part of the Bay.

Swimming areas south of Conimicut Point, including Warren Town Beach and a handful of beaches in Warwick's Greenwich Bay, are open during much of the summer, although closures are sometimes necessary following major rainstorms which cause bacterial contamination.

The $275,000 grant, funded through the EPA's Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) program, will allow state and federal officials to boost monitoring efforts both above and below Warwick's Conimicut Point.

Additionally, the grant will be used to identify "real-time" sampling techniques that are both more accurate and quicker in terms of getting results. A major priority will be to develop strategies for communicating the water quality results more quickly and effectively to the public. Among the options that will be considered are the use of websites, daily newspaper postings, toll-free hotlines and on-site flags and postings along the bay.

"This grant will improve the state's ability to protect the health and safety of its citizens who are, in increasing numbers, using Upper Narragansett Bay," said Curt Spalding, executive director of Save the Bay. "Many residents are using Upper Bay waters without a clear understanding of the water quality, thus putting their health at risk. This project will help address these serious gaps of information of whether and when licensed and unlicensed bathing beaches are safe to swim."

"This EPA funding will bolster our ability to assess water quality conditions at public beaches around the Upper Bay," added DEM Director Andrew McLeod. "Enhanced monitoring and management of these waters will translate into safer, more reliable and perhaps even more extensive swimming opportunities for the public."

DeVillars also announced today the recipients of five grants under EPA's Small Grants Program for Resource Protection. The projects, totaling $41,345, will support projects aimed at helping local Rhode Island communities develop the facts and assessments skills they need to make informed decisions about their natural resources. The grants are as follows:

    • The Southern New England Forest Consortium is receiving $8,875 to explore the short- and long-term implications of land conservation for local tax bases, as well as analyze the impacts of commercial development. The project will target three communities for specific outreach and application of the analytical results.
    • The Town of Burrillville is receiving $6,700 to evaluate the likely impacts of projected and currently planned development on its aquifer and wellhead areas. Results of the analysis will enable the town to identify appropriate actions and protection mechanisms for protecting its primary drinking water supply.
    • The University of Rhode Island's Department of Natural Resources is receiving $9,875 to prepare a digital atlas of critical natural resources. The atlas will include maps of groundwater, wetlands and forestland, land use, and critical habitats for every town and watershed in Rhode Island. The maps will be available from the Internet-based World Wide Web.
    • The Rhode Island Rural Lands Coalition is receiving $8,800 to conduct workshops with local communities to develop specific strategies and methods that can be used to retain rural chacracter, maintain open and unfragmented greenspace, and avoid sprawl. Each community will be assisted in developing a board-based assessment of current conditions as compared to the goals outlined in their comprehensive plans.
    • The Salt Ponds Coalition is receiving $7,095 to develop new strategies for increasing public awareness about the need for and benefits of better wastewater management practices. Outreach targets will include realtors, home builders and buyers, and municipal building officials.