Rhode Island

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Water quality in Narragansett Bay is influenced by many human and natural factors. The influx of large amounts of waste materials, including nitrogen and phosphorus, raw sewage, toxic metals and bacteria began to enter the Bay in large quantities in 1871 as a byproduct of the introduction of a public water supply to the city of Providence. Industrial waste and sewage were discharged into the Bay, largely untreated and unregulated, until the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

Find out what Rhode Island is doing in "The Biggest Project You'll Never See."

Read our 2006-07 State of the Bay report.


Much early progress was made with the regulation of “point sources” of pollution such as industrial facilities and wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs). In 1982, Save The Bay began its first census of WWTFs in Rhode Island with its publication series “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” to focus attention on the still large amounts of suspended solids, chlorine and toxic metals coming from sewage treatment. Today, technology has improved, but we are still concerned with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus and other contaminants such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products that are still present in wastewater. We are also concerned with thermal pollution from the heated discharge of Brayton Point power plant.


Stormwater has become a major concern to local communities and beachgoers as pathogens and nutrients force the closure of beaches and shellfish beds. This “non-point” source of pollution comes from runoff from paved surfaces, lawns, animal and human wastes, and other land uses. Replacing ageing infrastructure in local communities, including outdated cesspools and septic systems, cracked and leaking sewer and water lines, and combined storm sewers seems like an overwhelming task. Development in the Bay watershed is an inevitable challenge that will continue to put pressure on water quality for years to come, and we all have to be part of the solution.


To develop pro-active strategies to improve water quality in the Bay, monitoring is essential. Save The Bay is an active partner in Bay water quality monitoring. In the video below, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse accompanies Save The Bay and Brown University Professor Dave Murray as they monitor conditions in the Upper Bay, just off Fields Point.



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