Five resiliency projects that help the Bay respond to climate change

Five resiliency projects that help the Bay respond to climate change

by Save The Bay’s Policy Team

Save The Bay’s habitat and policy staff work with communities throughout the watershed to identify projects that will result in more resilient ecosystems and communities. Learn about the project types, and where we’ve done them, below.

Pavement and Structure Removal

The removal of pavement from the end of Mill Cove Road in Warwick opened up space that allowed the nearby habitat to adapt to rising sea levels.

Throughout the Narragansett Bay watershed, paved roads and parking lots lie close to the water’s edge. Some roads lead directly to the Bay and cannot be protected from rising seas and regular flooding events. Meanwhile, boardwalks, seawalls, old foundations and buildings harden the shoreline’s edge and compromise the Bay’s ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. In both cases, the solution is to remove or relocate the roads and structures. Removing pavement provides space for stormwater management and coastal habitats and reduces flooding of vulnerable infrastructure; removing structures enhances lateral public access along the shoreline and increases Bay’s resiliency. These projects also provide space for coastal habitats to migrate inland and support improved water quality.

Project sites include: Mill Cove Ave, Warwick; Kickemuit Ave, Bristol; India Point Park, Providence; Barrington Beach, Barrington; City Park Beach, Warwick; Van Zandt Seawall, Warwick; Grinnell’s Beach, Tiverton

Bank Regrading and Stabilization

Bank regrading at Allins Cove in Barrington.

As a result of hardened shorelines and the resulting intense wave action, many banks around the Bay have eroded at a steep angle. When the shoreline becomes too vertical, marshes can’t migrate inland, and wildlife—like horseshoe crabs that rely on beaches for spawning habitat—can’t make use of the environment. What’s more, when plants can’t colonize the shore, the loose sand erodes quickly. By regrading the banks with excavators, stabilizing them with natural materials like coconut fibers, and planting with native plants, we increase shoreline health and resilience. These projects help strengthen valuable shoreline habitats, minimize erosion, and often create more recreational beach.

Project sites include: Allin’s Cove, Barrington; King’s Park, Newport; Rose Larisa Park, East Providence

Culvert Redesign

A culvert along Teal Drive in South Kingstown.

A culvert is a small structure that channels water under a road or other structure. With climate change causing more intense rainstorms and rising sea levels, many culverts throughout the watershed are not large enough to allow water to flow through them properly. As a result, water on either side can back up and cause localized flooding. Undersized culverts also restrict the passage of fish and wildlife and cause the water to become stagnant and polluted. By replacing culverts, we allow rivers and tidal waters to ebb and flow as needed, improving their ability to adapt and recover from changing water levels. Replacing culverts improves water quality and habitats in estuaries and rivers, and reduces flooding impacts.

Project sites include: Harbor Drive, Westerly; Teal Drive, South Kingstown; Upper Kickemuit Dam, Warren 

Dam Removal

Removing the Shady Lea Mill Dam on the Mattatuxet River in North Kingstown.

Relics of industries of yesteryear, dams stem the flow of rivers throughout the Bay watershed. While the ponds they created once supported water power for mills, the stagnant water is anything but healthy for the rivers or the Bay. The water becomes warm, supports algal blooms, can become choked by invasive plants and is too stagnant to flush out bacteria and other pollution. The dams themselves prevent important fish species from completing their spawning cycle and many local dams are at risk of failing under the stress of severe storms. Dam removal projects improve water quality, create healthier habitat, and reduce flooding risk.

Project sites include: Pawtuxet Falls Dam, Warwick and Cranston; Shady Lea Mill, North Kingstown; Paragon Dam, Providence

Land Conservation

The preservation of land at the Sowams Meadow Preserve in Warren will guarantee that the valuable marsh habitat will have space to move inland as seas rise. Photo Credit: Warren Land Conservation Trust

In the face of increasing development demands, we must protect coastal and inland habitats that support a healthy Bay and watershed. Salt marshes need space to migrate inland with sea level rise, and forests control the amount of water that enters tributary streams, offer invaluable permeable surfaces that can soak up large amounts of rainfall, and filter pollutants that have been picked up by stormwater. Land conservation supports the health of coastal habitats and water quality, and mitigates flooding impacts.

Project sites include: Sowams Meadow Preserve, Warren


This piece originally appeared in our Fall 2021 edition of Tides magazine.