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NEWS: Save The Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone testified at a Sept. 2, 2009 U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works field hearing hosted by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Stone called on the federal government to help states and municipalities fund wastewater/stormwater infrastructure upgrades. Watch a video of Stone's testimony.

A hallmark of Save The Bay’s work for nearly four decades, advocating for wastewater management improvements and preventing the discharge of raw sewage is still a top priority. Save The Bay supports efforts by RI, MA and the EPA to implement stricter discharge permits on wastewater treatment plants and to urge Bay communities to deal with sewer capacity and overflow problems.

Aquidneck Island Wastewater

Save The Bay supports a regional, island-wide solution to water and wastewater issues on Aquidneck Island. Failing septic systems and cesspools on the island have resulted in closed shellfish beds and beaches, leading to efforts to establish new sewage treatment capacity and the addition of sewers to areas in Portsmouth and Middletown. Opposition to upgrading and extending sewers comes from concerns about the costs to local rate payers and from the concern that new sewers will lead to undesirable development on previously unbuildable land.

Read more about Saving Aquidneck Island. 

In August 2009, Save The Bay broadcast a video showing Middletown’s Atlantic Beach closed on a perfect beach day. No other beach in the state was closed. Still, the stench at Atlantic Beach was unbearable, and one of the region’s most popular tourism destinations was nearly deserted. 

Our “Pollution Stinks” video sparked a healthy debate in the media. Clearly, people care. And when they see beach pollution, they want it fixed.

Treatment Plants

There are 35 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants that discharge to the Narragansett Bay watershed and other Rhode Island waters. Nineteen of these lie within Rhode Island borders with the remaining 16 in Massachusetts. The three largest plants contributing wastewater to Narragansett Bay are Fields Point in Providence, Bucklin Point in East Providence and the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District (UBWPAD) facility in Worcester, MA.

Fields Point is the state’s largest wastewater treatment facility and one of the first in the country. It has the capacity of 200 million gallons per day (MGD) through preliminary and primary treatment and 65 (MGD) through secondary treatment. Flow to Fields Point comes through 61 miles of pipeline from Providence, North Providence, Johnston, and portions of Lincoln and Cranston and is operated by the Narragansett Bay Commission. Recent legislation has set new nitrogen discharge limits for Fields Point at 5 mg per liter, down from 17 mg per liter. The facility upgrades necessary to meet these new limits should be completed by 2013. 

Bucklin Point is also operated by the Narragansett Bay Commission. It has a capacity of 116 MGD through preliminary and primary treatment and 46 MGD through secondary treatment. Flow to Bucklin Point comes from Pawtucket, Central Falls, Cumberland, Lincoln, the northern portion of East Providence, and a small section of Smithfield making a total of 28 miles of NBC-owned pipes. Just as with Fields Point, recent legislation has set new discharge limits for Fields Point of 5 mg per liter, down from 18 mg per liter. The facility upgrades necessary to meet these new limits should be completed by 2012 or sooner.

Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District is the largest of nine wastewater treatment facilities in the Blackstone River watershed. This plant is located near the headwaters of the river in Worcester, and more than 60 towns and cities rely on the plant for some of their wastewater management. The District is currently implementing an upgrade of its treatment facilities based on a 2001 EPA permit. This permit did not have nitrogen limits, but the plant recognized that it would likely face these limits in the future, so it planned to have a removal goal of 8-10mg/L. These upgrades will be completed in 2009. In the meantime, EPA issued a permit in 2008 that set nitrogen limits at 5mg/L, similar to the two largest plants in RI. UBWPAD has appealed these permit limits, while Save The Bay feels that they should be enforced.

What Save The Bay is Doing

Brayton Point Narragansett Bay is threatened by thermal pollution coming from the heated discharge waters of power plants such as Brayton Point in Somerset, MA. Brayton Point is a 1960’s era coal fired power plant that can supply up to one fifth of the electricity needs of Massachusetts. Water is discharged from the plant’s cooling system at 95 degrees. Larval fish and eggs are also trapped in the plant’s intake system. Together these issues have caused an 87% decrease in fish abundance and diversity in Mount Hope Bay. After a long battle, the EPA determined that the plant was violating the Clean Water Act and has required the construction of cooling towers by 2012. Watch a May, 2010, video on construction of the cooling towers.

Save The Bay supports the Warwick Sewer Authority’s efforts to implement its mandatory sewer connection program. This program is an important step in ensuring the health of Greenwich Bay and creating an equitable sharing of sewage treatment costs for the City.  


Stages of Wastewater Treatment

  • Preliminary treatment removes large pieces of debris like trash and branches with bar racks. Smaller debris, such as gravel and coffee grounds, are separated using aerated grit tanks. The separated material is then taken to the landfill for proper disposal. 
  • Primary treatment removes smaller solids through settling tanks and skimming devices. At this point 60% of the solids are removed. Additionally at this step, chlorination of the water takes place.
  • Secondary treatment removes up to 85% of the solid material in the wastewater. In this step the water is aerated to stimulate the growth of helpful bacteria and other microorganisms that break down organic nitrogen and impurities converting them into ammonia. After the sludge created by these microorganisms is separated from the wastewater, the water is chlorinated and then released into the Bay. 
  • Many treatment plants have upgraded to Tertiary treatment to comply with strict nitrogen limits. This step converts ammonia into N2 gas which is then released out of the system back into the atmosphere. Because ammonia is the easiest form of nitrogen for algae to utilize, it contributes most significantly to the explosion of microalgal blooms in the upper Bay. 

You won't find a better or more colorful account of what goes on at a treatment plant than Providence Journal reporter G. Wayne Miller's September 2008 article, It's All About Feeding the Bugs.

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