WHAT LIES BENEATH: Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, center, surveys a tunnel that captures sewage overflow, with Narragansett Bay Commission Executive Director Ray Marshall, left, and Scott Early lead inspector at Gilbane-Jacobs.
Deep under the streets of Providence, a three-phase, $1 billion tunnel has reached the halfway point in a massive construction project to capture sewage and stormwater runoff and move it along to wastewater-treatment facilities.
The federally mandated Combined Sewer Overflow Project is being done to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act – that’s taking 20 years, with a project timeline from 2001 to 2021.
Old drainage systems in Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket combined sewage and stormwater discharge, while newer communities have two separate systems, said Narragansett Bay Commission spokeswoman Jamie Samons.
Phase I of the sewer-overflow project was construction of a tunnel 26 feet in diameter that began in 2001. That first phase was completed in 2008 and began capturing overflow, said Samons. The project is now halfway into Phase II with a tunnel that’s 9 feet in diameter being connected to the first tunnel.
“This project is having, and will continue to have, a major positive impact on water quality in the upper bay,” said Save The Bay Director of Advocacy Topher Hamblett, who has been active in the organization for more than 20 years. Hamblett represented Save The Bay during the original stakeholder meetings, which began in 1996, to develop the Combined Sewer Overflow Project.
“Upwards of 5 billion gallons of sewage and polluted stormwater that would have otherwise been going into our local rivers was actually captured, stored and treated thoroughly at the Narragansett Bay Commission facility since this sewer overflow project went online in 2008,” said Hamblett.
“You can see the improvement in water quality. Every spring, summer and fall there are hundreds of boats on the Providence and Seekonk rivers fishing for striped bass and bluefish,” he said. “There’s been significant growth in community boating. You’ll see people in kayaks on these rivers. The public is using our waters much more than they were 10 and 20 years ago.