Improving Water Quality

Pollution harms our Bay

Beach closure sign
Swimming beaches along Narragansett Bay shores are frequently closed after heavy rains, because bacteria levels in the water make it unsafe for human contact.

Water pollution harms Narragansett Bay’s waters, marine life, and the people who depend on it for their livelihood and quality of life. The Bay and the rivers of its watershed have suffered from 200+ years of toxic pollution—chemicals and metals that have been dumped into the Bay since the Industrial Revolution began on the Blackstone River. Today, the major sources of pollution are wastewater treatment plants, cesspools and septic systems, and stormwater runoff, all of which discharge high levels of nitrogen, bacteria, and phosphorus and everyday products such as pharmaceuticals, metals, chemicals, and petroleum products into the Bay and other local waters.

The pollution from these sources poses risks to public health and leads to the closing of swimming beaches and shellfish beds. Clams, mussels, scallops and oysters from Narragansett Bay are harvested commercially and recreationally, but shellfish beds are often closed after heavy rains because bacteria in sewage from wastewater system overflows and polluted runoff make them unsafe to eat. Eelgrass, widely recognized as a key indicator of bay health and an important source of food and habitat for marine life, has dwindled to just 10 percent of its one-thriving status in the Bay.

Reducing the Amount of Nutrients Entering the Water

Wastewater treatment systems and stormwater runoff overload Narragansett Bay and coastal waters with nutrients, most notably nitrogen and phosphorus. While nutrients are essential for marine life, excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus can be “too much of a good thing,” clouding the water and lowering oxygen levels, causing fish kills and the loss of habitats such as eelgrass.

Save The Bay strives to reduce nitrogen by fighting for construction and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, elimination of cesspools, and investments in stormwater control projects. Nutrient pollution, especially in urban waters, has been greatly reduce, but we have a long way to go.

Reducing Polluted Runoff & Improving Stormwater Management

When it rains, water from parking lots, driveways, streets, highways, lawns and farms flows into the Bay, carrying with it animal waste, oil, grease, gasoline, fertilizer, garbage and salt and sand. Stormwater also carries sewage pollution from cesspools and combined sewer systems, and overloads the Bay with nutrients. When not properly managed, stormwater can cause major flooding events that disrupt people’s lives and businesses.

Reducing stormwater pollution is complicated. The greatest challenges are raising awareness of homeowners, business owners, and municipal and state governments who all have roles to play. Cities and towns own stormwater collection systems with storm drains and pipes that require maintenance, repair, and upgrades. Commercial areas, such as malls and big box stores, can re-engineer and landscape their parking lots to capture stormwater and allow it to do what it does naturally: seep into the ground. Rain gardens can be developed by schools, stores, and homeowners to accomplish the same goal.

Learn More About Wastewater Treatment & Disposal

Algae Bloom
Algae blooms, caused by excessive nutrients in the water, can be seen along the shores at Sabin Point.

How Nutrients Harm the Bay

  1. Excessive nutrients cause algae to grow rapidly. When the algae decompose, they use up a lot of oxygen in the water, depriving fish and shellfish of the oxygen they need to live. Fish kills occur during these “low oxygen” or “hypoxic” events.
  2. Nutrient pollution clouds the water, robbing eelgrass of the sunlight it needs to grow. Eelgrass is a primary source of food and shelter for many marine species, including economically important finfish and shellfish. It also protects the shoreline by dampening wave energy and reducing erosion. Eelgrass is widely recognized as a key indicator of estuary health. Unfortunately, Narragansett Bay, once teeming with eelgrass, has lost 90 percent of its eelgrass beds.
  3. Excess nutrients can create large, deep mats of sea lettuce—a type of seaweed—depriving bottom-dwelling marine plants and animals of sunlight and oxygen. When these mats of algae wash up on shore, the stench of the decaying seaweed makes for unpleasant beaches.
  4. Excess nutrients can lead to overproduction of certain kinds of phytoplankton, which can cause diseases in fish, shellfish and people.

Read About Some of Our Latest Initiatives to Improve Water Quality

Outdoors, a man steps on the lip of a shovel, digging a runnel in the middle of a saltmarsh that is otherwise covered in brown and golden vegetation in April 2021.

Spades of work to save our salt marshes

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Salt marshes, like Winnapaug, across Rhode Island, face multiple and complex challenges to their continued survival. Digging runnels can help drain water off the marsh, so that’s just what our habitat adaptation staff and interns spent their spring doing!

Salt marshes, like Winnapaug, across Rhode Island, face multiple and complex challenges to their continued survival. Digging runnels can help drain water off the marsh, so that's just what our... ...Read More

Invest in the Bay and beyond; Vote YES on Question 2

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Invest in the Bay and beyond: Vote YES on Question 2 UPDATE: On March 2, 2021, Rhode Island voters once again overwhelmingly approved investments in clean water, beaches, parks and open spaces. THANK YOU, voters, for saying YES to Question 2! Rhode Island is holding a special election on March 2, 2021 on a series … Read More

Invest in the Bay and beyond: Vote YES on Question 2 UPDATE: On March 2, 2021, Rhode Island voters once again overwhelmingly approved investments in clean water, beaches, parks and... ...Read More

Sites at Stake

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Sites at Stake Highlights of the watershed’s most threatened natural locations by Save The Bay’s Policy Team From salt marshes to beaches, popular and familiar sites around Narragansett Bay face myriad challenges in the coming decades as pollution, climate change and rising sea levels threaten valuable habitats, public access sites, and more.    Location: The … Read More

Sites at Stake Highlights of the watershed’s most threatened natural locations by Save The Bay’s Policy Team From salt marshes to beaches, popular and familiar sites around Narragansett Bay face... ...Read More


Save The Bay’s three Waterkeepers engage in the collection and interpretation of data to inform the public and affect policy; urge our public officials to make protection of our most valuable resource a top priority, and hold them accountable for actions that affect Bay quality. As members of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has more than 300 programs worldwide, Save The Bay’s Waterkeepers are part of a network of specialists with a passion for defending the environment and a devotion to working in their communities.


Mike Jarbeau

As Save The Bay’s “eyes and ears” on Narragansett Bay, the Baykeeper identifies and responds to environmental threats by keeping in close contact with members of the Bay community and with environmental agencies. Save The Bay created the Baykeeper program in 1993 to strengthen our direct action, legal and regulatory watchdogging and pollution response capacity.
See pollution, or another issue, in the Bay? Report it to the Baykeeper:




David Prescott

Our South County Coastkeeper works in the community—both on and off the water—to protect, restore, and promote stewardship of the unique and magnificent waterways of Little Narragansett Bay, the Pawcatuck River, and the South Coast. The Coastkeeper program was launched in 2007 from Save The Bay’s South Coast Center in Westerly, R.I., creating a Save The Bay presence in Southern Rhode Island.
See pollution, or another issue, along the coast? Report it to the Coastkeeper:



Kate McPherson

Our Riverkeeper works to protect, restore, and promote stewardship of the vast network of remarkable rivers within the Narragansett Bay watershed, 60% of which is in Massachusetts. The Riverkeeper program was developed in 2016 to monitor Narragansett Bay’s tributary watershed, including the Blackstone, Ten Mile, Runnins, Palmer, Kickemuit, Cole, Lee and Taunton Rivers.
See pollution, or another issue, in our region’s rivers? Report it to the Riverkeeper:


Report pollution when you see it

Water ReporterThe Water Reporter App is the perfect way to let Save The Bay know when there’s a problem in our local waters. You can be our eyes and noses across the watershed. So if you see or smell anything that might be pollution, snap a photo, write a caption and send it to us on Water Reporter.

Available on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Hold your own shoreline cleanup

Clean Swell AppThe Clean Swell App lets volunteers upload important cleanup data in real-time to the world’s largest marine debris database. This database is used by scientists, conservation groups, governments and industry leaders to study ocean trash and take action to ensure trash never reaches our beaches.

Available on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Report flooding and storm surges

My Coast Logo

The MyCoast App lets you upload pictures that capture the highest tides, show storm damage and erosion and record localized flooding. By recording these events, you’ll help decision-makers, emergency managers and others make better decisions about how to protect our coastal communities and assets.

Available on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

*Please note:  Be sure to access the Johnson & Wales University Harborside Campus through the main entrance on Harborside Blvd. Your GPS may suggest taking Ernest Street to JWU’s Shipyard Street entrance, but that route requires a key card for entry.  

From Route I-95 North or South, take Exit 18 (Thurbers Avenue). Head downhill on Thurbers Avenue to US Route 1A (Allens Avenue). Turn right onto Allens Ave. Continue southbound on Allens Ave. into Cranston, where Allens Ave. becomes Narragansett Blvd. Turn left onto Harborside Blvd. at the traffic light by the Shell gas station. Follow Harborside Blvd. through the Johnson & Wales Harborside Campus. At the end of Harborside Blvd., turn right onto Save The Bay Drive. Save The Bay Drive becomes a circular, one-way roadway as you approach the Bay Center. Parking is available in four guest lots after you pass the main building. Enter the building through the main entrance.


July 11, 2021

Dear Friends, Supporters and Community Members, 

At this time, Save The Bay’s facilities in Providence and Westerly remain closed to the public in response to COVID-19.

The Exploration Center and Aquarium in Newport reopened Monday, July 5, with new hours and visiting procedures in place.

Save The Bay is offering volunteer and internship opportunities with new policies and procedures for the health and safety of all involved.

Our staff continues to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, working both remotely and on-site. If you have any questions, you can contact us by phone (401-272-3540) or email (, or on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.