Updated March 24 at 1:24pm

Report: Water quality improves, land use concerns grow


PROVIDENCE – Water quality in Narragansett Bay and at beaches around Rhode Island is improving, but land development in coastal buffer zones and flood plains are “causes for concern,” according to an indicators report released by the Watershed Counts initiative.

“Land and water resources are central to the quality of life in Rhode Island and a critical component of the state’s economy,” Watershed Counts Co-coordinator Meg Kerr said in prepared remarks.

“Tourism alone is a $5.2 billion industry, making it the fourth largest economic engine for Rhode Island and a key job generator, which supports more than 41,000 jobs in the state,” said Kerr. “This industry, among many others, relies upon a quality natural environment, and this year’s report shows we have some work to do in improving management efforts in the watershed.”

According to the multi-organization report – a collaboration between more than 60 state and federal agencies, public advocacy groups, businesses and university scientists – specific management efforts will need to be decided on in the future to help protect and preserve the “abundant natural resources” in the Narragansett Bay watershed.

The “good news,” according to the report, was that the number of beach closures continued to drop in 2012, and wastewater and stormwater loadings of nutrients into the bay have been reduced.

The initiative said its concern comes from the fact that land use for development continues to increase in the Ocean State even with minimal population growth. “Rhode Island is facing the need to adapt to future climate change impacts such as increased temperatures, more intense storms, and sea level rise, including measures such as coordination among agencies and the need for increased public awareness,” said the report.

“How we develop on the land affects water quality in the Bay and at beaches, which has a major impact on our economy,” said Kerr in a statement. “The legislature has an important role to play across the board by supporting policies that can reduce sprawl and promote smart growth; continue with upgrading wastewater and stormwater discharges; and encourage and mandate state agencies to proactively plan for climate change challenges.”

To view the full Watershed Counts report, visit: www.watershedcounts.org.


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