As part of Blog Action Day 2009, over 7,000 bloggers are writing today about finding a sustainable solution to climate change. Here in Rhode Island, climate change has some big implications. We are experiencing rapid changes that are already having an impact on the Bay and its tributary rivers.
We know for certain that Narragansett Bay is warmer on average than at any other time in recorded history. Over the past 30 years, the average mean temperature of the Bay has gone up two degrees Fahrenheit; the average mean winter temperature has increased four degrees. As water temperatures rise, we have seen a major shift in fish populations, with severe declines of the classic cold-water species like winter flounder, cod, and other bottom fish. We have seen increases in fish that tolerate warmer water like striped bass, summer flounder, and menhaden. Lobsters and scallops are declining, while squid and various species of crabs are up.
Severe storms have increased 88% in Rhode Island in the past 60 years. Storm-related coastal erosion will force tough decisions to be made in towns and cities throughout the Bay, including where to protect or relocate infrastructure and where and how to rebuild after the next storm. Coastal managers are telling us that we have to plan now for an eventual 3-5 feet of sea level rise. Over the next decades, we are likely to lose neighborhoods and important coastal buffer zones to the effects of sea level rise and coastal storms.
Increased storm intensity also places added pressure on our water and wastewater infrastructure. Our current infrastructure is 30% undersized - pollution from sewage and stormwater exacerbates water quality problems by causing algae blooms that cloud the water and accumulate on the bottom and on our shorelines. These algae decompose, robbing the water of vital dissolved oxygen and contributing to large-scale dead zones and fish and clam die-offs.
Here is a call to action for Narragansett Bay:
- We need to further reduce sewage, stormwater, and nutrient pollution by investing in advanced treatment technologies and infrastructure in our coastal communities.
- We must continue to preserve and restore salt marsh habitat so that coastlines can retreat.
- We must continue to remove obsolete dams and restore fish passage to tributary rivers.
- We must invest in clean, sustainable, and renewable energy sources and crack down on old dirty power plants.
- We need accurate data to give us the information we need to adequately plan for and manage coastal development.
- We must take these steps now to increase our resiliency for the future. It will take political will and pressure by all of us to make it happen.