Wastewater Management

Wastewater Treatment and Disposal

How Wastewater is Treated

  1. Stormdrains often lead straight to the water, without treating pollution or bacteria.
    Stormdrains often lead straight to the water, without treating pollution or bacteria.

    Municipal or regional wastewater facilities remove or reduce pollution before discharging the treated wastewater through a pipe into the Bay or local rivers. Wastewater treatment facilities are required to remove most of the bacteria, metals, and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus).

  2. Septic systems are “on site” facilities that provide treatment of wastewater from homes and businesses that aren’t served by large, central wastewater treatment facilities.
  3. Cesspools are basically lined holes in the ground that collect household wastewater, without treating or removing bacteria or nutrients, and contaminate groundwater, drinking water and coastal areas. In 2016, when we successfully fought for cesspool phase-out legislation, 25,000 cesspools remained in Rhode Island.
  4. Stormdrains often lead straight to local waterways, without any treatment.

Local Wastewater Treatment Facilities

For decades, Save The Bay has advocated for the construction and upgrade of wastewater treatment plants to reduce bacteria and nutrient pollution in Narragansett Bay. Currently 35 publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities in Rhode Island and 16 in Massachusetts. discharge into the Narragansett Bay watershed. The four largest plants are the Narragansett Bay Commission facilities at Fields Point (Providence) and Bucklin Point (East Providence), the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District (UBWPAD) facility in Worcester, MA, and the Brockton Advanced Water Reclamation Facility in Brockton, MA.

Clean Water Act of 1972 and Save The Bay Advocacy

The enactment of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with regulating wastewater pollution. In 1982, in the midst of an onslaught of toxic materials coming from sewage treatment, Save The Bay published “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” to focus attention on the still large amounts of suspended solids, chlorine and toxic metals coming from wastewater treatment plants. We have championed the cleanup of Narragansett Bay by advocating—through public campaigns, legislation, bond referenda, and legal action—for the construction and upgrade of wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, elimination of cesspools, and investments in stormwater control projects. Pollution, especially in urban waters, has been greatly reduced but we have a long way to go.


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: