PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Environmental Monitoring Collaborative sees a roughly $3 million shortfall in funding in the next two state and federal budget cycles for what it views as critical monitoring operations of Narragansett Bay and its watershed.
In a report released Wednesday, the collaborative warned that the potential declines in funding for monitoring activities could “threaten our capacity to collect and record biological, chemical and physical data [that is] essential for evaluating environmental health and risk, guiding environmental management and ensuring economic sustainability and development.”
The RIEMC predicts that funding in fiscal year 2014 may fall $476,000 short of the amount needed to continue collecting data on topics such as the water quality in the bay, dissolved oxygen in its water, shellfish growing areas, large river water quality, invasive species and beach water quality, among many others.
The collaborative sees a potential shortfall in fiscal 2015 totaling $2.6 million, which it sees as hampering environmental management capabilities by keeping date from finding its way to the relevant state and nonprofit agencies.
For instance, the RIEMC provides information to Watershed Counts, a partnership of more than 60 agencies, nongovernmental organizations, municipalities and others to document progress (or lack of it) in the health and productivity of Narragansett Bay.
The report identified five “priority monitoring programs” that were in jeopardy as a result of potential funding shortfalls:
Monitoring of river and stream flows and groundwater levels.
Coastal and freshwater beach monitoring.
Lobster monitoring through a ventless lobster trap survey.
River and stream monitoring.
Dissolved-oxygen field surveys in Narragansett Bay.
“Wastewater treatment plants across the state have been spending millions of dollars to upgrade facilities to improve water quality,” said Tom Uva, director of planning, policy and regulation for the Narragansett Bay Commission. “It is critical that these expensive infrastructure upgrades are based upon sound science that can only be obtained by adequate monitoring.”
“Environmental monitoring is the lifeblood of scientific research,” said Judith Swift, the director of the University of Rhode Island Coastal Institute. “Many years of uninterrupted data tell us how our actions fuel trends.”
The RIEMC was established by law in 2004 to support water- and land-based testing on a long-term basis as well as for specialized research. It maintains a comprehensive strategy for environmental monitoring in Rhode Island and helps coordinate the efforts of its many member organizations. While its funding comes from state coffers, it is to a large degree continuing declines in federal funding – accelerated by sequestration – that are forcing the state to cut back on its environmental monitoring efforts.