For years, efforts by Rhode Island regulators to clean up Narragansett Bay have been hampered by the state’s neighbor to the north and east. Thus, despite a 14-year ban on discharging boat sewage into Rhode Island waters, untreated discharge could legally be dumped in Mount Hope Bay in Massachusetts and find its way down into the Ocean State. Until now, that is.
With its June 29 approval of the Massachusetts’ request to designate Mount Hope Bay as a no-discharge area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken a major step to improving the quality of recreational use of Narragansett Bay.
Establishing the zone has had the widespread support of the surrounding communities, including Somerset, Fall River, Freetown, Dighton, Berkley and Swansea. It is also supported by Save The Bay, The Taunton River Watershed Alliance and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The reason is simple: Studies by the EPA, the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program have documented the negative effects of poor Mt. Hope Bay water flowing into Narragansett Bay, creating the necessity for change.
With the approval, the discharge of any treated or untreated boat sewage is prohibited in the Taunton River north to the Center Street bridge on the Dighton-Berkley border, as well as the Lee and Cole Rivers, up to Route 6. In total, the area is about 9 square miles.
Accomplishing the task has been a generation-long process, as the Bay State supported the building of land-based pump-out facilities as well as the purchase of pump-out vessels before requesting the federally approved designation. And it stands in stark contrast to Rhode Island’s approach, which was to ask for the no-discharge designation in 1998, five years after the federal government created the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sportfish Restoration Program to help states finance the treatment infrastructure necessary to ensure compliance with the designation.