Thursday, October 7, 2010

Save Our Shore, Vote Yes on Four!

On November 2, Rhode Island voters will have a unique opportunity to expand public access to Narragansett Bay by 83 acres by approving a $14.7 million bond, referendum #4.

These shoreline acquisitions will allow us to enhance three geographically and physically diverse waterfront locations to promote quality of life and the economy of our state. In Warwick, $10 million will be used to acquire 81 acres at the former Rocky Point Park, opening it up for public access and recreation. In Providence, $3.2 million will be used to acquire land adjacent to India Point Park (the abandoned “Shooters” nightclub) so that it can become an active urban gateway to the bay with expanded public access and recreational opportunities. The remaining $1.5 million will be set aside to repair crumbling masonry at Historic Fort Adams to allow greater public access and use of the dramatic interior of the Fort, including the 6.5 acre parade grounds.

This is an important time to acquire and support these properties to enhance access to the Bay and increase tourism to our state. For those of you who have fond memories of Rocky Point Park, this is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure this land for all. It is also a great chance to open up Fort Adams to the public and fully enjoy this historic site. This money will also open up access to the Bay in an urban area just outside the hurricane barrier, where water access is limited.

Find out more at the Save Our Shore website and sign up to volunteer on election day. If you would like a lawn sign or bumper sticker, you can pick one up here at Save The Bay or any of these locations.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ten Mile River fish ladder project is starting construction

The Ten Mile River will be getting three new fish ladders, starting with Turner Reservoir. The water levels in the reservoir are currently being drawn down in preparation for installation of the fish ladder later this month.

Water levels will be lowered 30-42 inches and it is expected that about 15 feet of shoreline will be exposed during this time. Sampling of Turner Reservoir conducted by the MA Department of Public Health on September 1st confirmed high concentrations of the blue-green algae, Microcystis. DEM will notify the public when it is safe to resume recreational activities, but boating and other recreation on the river is currently not advised. You should also not allow your pets to drink the water due to toxins in this algae.

The project will continue into next year with the completion of fish ladders at Hunts Mill and Omega Pond. This will allow anadromous fish to gain access to the river up to the dam just above Slater Park in Pawtucket. There is a combination of 340 acres of spawning habitat in the three ponds for alewife and about three miles of river spawning area for blueback herring and American shad.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lower Shannock Falls Dam removed

The Lower Shannock Falls Dam in Richmond was removed today as part of a larger river habitat and fish passage restoration project on the Pawcatuck River. The Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association (WPWA) and project partners including Save The Bay, are working to provide fish passage at the three dams on the upper Pawcatuck River: Lower Shannock Falls, Upper Shannock (or Horseshoe Falls) and Kenyon Millpond Dam. The project will allow access to 10 miles of the Pawcatuck River and will open up an additional 1,300 acres of spawning habitat including Wordens Pond. This dam, which no longer served its intended purpose, prevented access to migrating fish such as American shad and river herring. The dam was originally built in the 1820s as part of a textile mill. The mill site next to the river is being redeveloped into a public access and riverfront park by the Town of Richmond.

Project partners include the NOAA Restoration Center, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, Town of Richmond, RI CRMC and RI DEM. Partial funding came from the ARRA federal stimulus package. Save The Bay supported this project through our partnership with Restore America's Estuaries and NOAA.

This project is one of several large dam removal projects that Save The Bay is working on in partnership with local river groups and state and federal agencies. These include Paragon Dam on the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, Pawtuxet Falls dam on the Pawtuxet River, State Hospital dam on the Mill River in Taunton and Barstowes Pond dam on the Cotley River in Taunton. See the video below of today's removal!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Culvert Installed at Labor in Vain Salt Marsh

Save The Bay first identified the Labor in Vain salt marsh system in Somerset, MA in 1996 as part of a bay-wide assessment of potential salt marsh projects. The site was also included in the Massachusetts Tidal Restriction Atlas and became a project of mine at the Massachusetts Riverways Program in 2004. Many years later, the upper marsh is coming back to life. A new culvert was installed last week that will allow tidal flushing into a section of marsh that was long inundated with fresh water and frozen in the winter to allow ice skating. A small pipe culvert and tide gate allowed very limited influx of salt water.

Skating weather had been harder and harder to come by in recent years, and the town eventually agreed to give up that use and restore full tidal flushing to this marsh which was gradually filling in with Phragmites. When I visited this new culvert yesterday, the channel was absolutely full of tiny young of the year mummichogs (small fish that are born and live their young lives in salt marshes). We also saw fresh animal tracks in the marsh. It was amazing to see this abundance of life in the newly formed tidal creek. Many project partners put in years of work on this project including the Town of Somerset and the Massachusetts Wetland Restoration Program. More work will hopefully be done on the downstream tidal restrictions in future years.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Support the Massachusetts Bottle Bill

Did you know that the Massachusetts bottle bill only includes carbonated beverages? Bottled water, sports drinks, iced tea and juices do not fall under this very important legislation and are littering the coastlines and landscapes of Massachusetts - enough to fill Fenway Park every year. The Massachusetts bottle bill generates important revenue for recycling and litter prevention, and needs to be expanded to include more than just soda.

Legislation has been introduced to expand the bottle bill for many years and the campaign has gained new traction this year with more need to close budget shortfalls. With three months left in the legislative session, the bill needs a hearing. You can read the latest and contact your legislative leaders at the Bottle Bill Coalition's website.

If you live in Rhode Island, let your Assembly members know that we need a bottle bill here as well, one that includes all types of beverage containers.

Murkowski Resolution Defeated

This resolution introduced by the Senator from Alaska was an attempt to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. After six hours of party-line arguments on the Senate floor, the measure was defeated. All 41 Republicans and six Democrats voted in favor of this resolution, showing huge levels of global warming denial and a refusal to look at real science. While this was still a victory for the EPA, it shows how hard the fight will be to pass any legislation that makes a dent in our consumption of fossil fuels. Senators Reed and Whitehouse delivered excellent speeches as did Senator Kerry. Our newly elected Massachusetts Senator, Mr. Scott Brown unfortunately voted in favor of the resolution. See the roll call here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Keeping tabs on Congress

It seems as if Congress is continually at a stand still, especially on the Senate side. I have found to be the best way to keep up with what is happening, and I find the blog very informative. Today's blog post provides a good catch-up on what is happening with energy legislation. Look out for a vote on the Murkowski resolution on Thursday blocking the EPA from regulating carbon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Global "weirding" continues, this time in Nashville

This year's El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is continuing to wreak havoc on the Eastern U.S. This large area of warm Pacific waters is fueling the jet stream and can be blamed for the huge amounts of snow dumped on the Mid-Atlantic this winter, the huge rainstorms of February and March, and now the historic flooding of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. While the El Nino is a natural phenomenon that drives important currents in the Pacific Ocean, this one is particularly strong. Every record breaking storm makes us ask - is this the wave of the future? We cannot blame any one storm on global warming, but we are entering what some scientists are calling a time of "global weirding" with records being broken from floods to droughts.

The flooding in Tennessee does seem like a bit of deja-vue - a 500 year storm resulting from a two day total of almost 14 inches of rain. The Cumberland River crested at 12 feet above flood stage. One of the climate change predictions for the Eastern U.S. is for increased precipitation coming in larger storms with periods of drought in between. This combination along with our desire to develop our floodplains and protect our cities with dams and levees, leaves us in a precarious position. This graph from the Pawtuxet River watershed shows how annual peak discharges have increased on the river since 1965, when large-scale development began. This year's flooding more than doubled previous discharge records. In a side note, the early spring weather has caused lilacs to bloom a full two weeks early. URI Master Gardeners have been keeping data on lilac blooms for the last six years as part of a national study, and have tracked the earlier blooms each year.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rivers in a flood

Unprecedented amounts of water are flowing under the bridge at Pawtuxet Falls and through rivers statewide. What does this volume of water do to the rivers around the state? Generally, rivers reach what we call "bank full" conditions every one to two years. These are conditions that form the river's channel. The 5-10 year storm will reach the floodplain and deposit sediment as waters recede. What we are seeing now are two 100 year floods within one month. The current conditions might be considered a 500 year flood. Rivers naturally respond to floods like this by creating new channels, scouring out sediment and debris, and making new areas of wildlife habitat. While there may be a temporary disruption for fish and other stream wildlife, floods create new healthy habitat.

Problems with floods like this are mainly for people. Many of the houses and businesses being flooded today are outside of what we would consider the river's floodplain, and don't have flood insurance. Our floodplain maps are out of date, and will all have to be rewritten. We are also seeing the consequence of 100 year old infrastructure reaching its breaking point. Dams were built too close to bridges, mills encroach on the river.

Even bridges built within the last decade are undersized. This is because they are often built within the "footprint" of the old bridge without any thought. State and City highway departments save considerable amounts of time and money on bridge design when they create a "footprint" bridge because they have fewer environmental permits to file. Widening a bridge span when replacing a bridge requires excavating stream banks, designing new abutments and filing wetland permits. Infrastructure in the Northeast is undersized by 30%, including bridges and culverts. We need to take this seriously and not repeat past mistakes. Click on the video below to see the Pawtuxet in action!

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Early Spring in the Bay

The osprey is back on its nest platform at the Bay Center! Warm weather in Rhode Island has brought an early return of migratory fish to Narragansett Bay. Fish were running this weekend, and more were seen today when I attended the fish count training for the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council at Rising Sun Mill. As soon as this ladder was constructed, a remnant run of fish was ready. This year will be the first year of a fish count, so we can get a good estimate of how many fish are returning. River herring were transplanted to the river in 2008, so next year's run should be even larger as the next generation of those fish reach maturity and return home to spawn.

An eel run has also been installed at this location (seen in the right of this photo). This portion of the ladder allows small eels or "elvers" to slither up a rough surface into the pond above. These elvers are about the size of a small pencil and will live and mature in the river for many years before returning to the sea to spawn.

Fish runs in the Narragansett Bay watershed have been hit hard in recent years, but last year was a stronger year with over 30,000 fish in Buckeye Brook in Warwick and over 45,000 fish at the Gilbert Stewart fish ladder. The Taunton River remains our largest fish run and has in the past supported two million fish. The cold weather this week may slow things down, but the run is in full swing. Formal fish counts will also begin this year at Shad Factory Pond in Rehoboth. If you would like to count fish at Rising Sun Mill in Providence, one more training will be held on April 3rd, 9:00 am at the fish ladder. Happy spring!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Water, water everywhere!

What happens when we develop in a floodplain? Well, we are seeing it right now. We expect flooding from the Blackstone River, and also from the Pawtuxet River, but it seems that we are seeing more and more of it. This land use photo comparison, given to me by the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, shows the development of the Pawtuxet River floodplain in the vicinity of the Warwick and Rhode Island Malls.

If you think about this area of our state, you may think about asphalt and lots of it. The Pawtuxet River is now what we would call a "flashy" river, because it rises and falls quickly with every rain event due to being surrounded by pavement. In the 1960's, the Army Corps of Engineers helped the City of Cranston purchase land along the river, buying up entire neighborhoods and removing the houses. This is land that today helps store flood water. The Natural Resource Conservation Service is currently working on more floodplain easement projects on the river that will reconnect the floodplain and provide additional flood storage. In addition, the removal of the Pawtuxet Falls dam will lower water levels in the area north of Pawtuxet Village, providing protection to some industrial properties.

The historic trend in New England has been towards large, extreme events and we need to do all we can to reclaim our floodplains. As I read the news reports and hear about the types of businesses being flooded - car salvage yards, nurseries with their fertilizers, industries, I think about the amount of hazardous material flowing into the Bay as well as the amount of economic loss that is occurring. We will recover from this storm, but we should do everything we can to be ready for the next one.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Failure of the Forge Pond Dam in Freetown is a Wake Up Call for Dam Owners

Last week, the Forge Pond dam on the Assonet River in Freetown came close to collapsing. The 300 year old dam is one of the most unsafe dams in Massachusetts and has been a target for removal for at least a decade. This dam was a chronic issue for the Office of Dam Safety, and the owner ignored fines and orders to fix or remove the dam. The owner died last year, leaving a derelict dam in the hands of state and local officials. While Dam Safety had removed the gates and lowered the pond, someone continued to plug up the dam and the pond reimpounded, spilling over and eroding the structure.

Most of the dam will now be removed by the state, creating a river channel that will allow fish passage. The dam directly downstream had the same owner and is also in extremely poor condition. We hope to work with the town to have that dam removed as well. Options for the first dam on the river also need to be explored, since the Assonet River is habitat for rainbow smelt - a protected species that is in decline. These fish spawn at the head of the tide on gravel stream bottoms. Dam removal will also open up this river for other migratory fish such as river herring and American eel.

Dams across the state are living on borrowed time, and many of our communities are at risk. These dams were built decades to centuries ago and many of them, perhaps most, no longer serve the function that they were built to provide. Closing our eyes to the problem doesn't make it disappear. The most cost-effective, permanent way for communities to solve the problems of unsafe dams is to remove them.

This near disaster comes less than five years after the failure of the Whittenton Pond dam in Taunton forced the evacuation of the downtown during a 2005 storm. That wake up call led to a state-wide review of dams in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island and much more aggressive enforcement by both dam safety programs. The states are doing their part of the job. This latest incident at Forge Pond highlights the need for dam owners to take personal responsibility and recognize their own liability.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Next Phase for Eelgrass Monitoring

Save The Bay will be conducting it's 10th year of eelgrass transplants this summer and will be moving the program into a new phase of monitoring and water quality advocacy efforts. Large scale transplants will end this year until water quality in the upper bay has recovered enough to allow long term survival of plants. Test transplants will continue as a way to monitor water quality and the ability of various locations to support larger scale restoration.

Test transplants have been a part of every summer's efforts, and the viable locations have been planted with larger beds that have survived. Areas north of Prudence Island, including Greenwich Bay, have not been successful test locations. Greenwich Bay once had many acres of eelgrass resources, but test transplants there have not lived more than two months due to high levels of nutrients which create algae blooms and problems with water clarity.

Along with our test transplants, Save The Bay will continue to advocate for water quality improvements in the upper bay, including imposing nitrogen limits on wastewater treatment facilities. Several recent victories will have a big impact on Bay water quality, including the completion of Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) tunnels in both Providence and Fall River, and the building of cooling towers at the Brayton Point power station. We are also supporting efforts by communities and the state to clean up pollution from cesspools and septic tanks.

If you haven't come out to experience an eelgrass harvest for yourself, make this the year! Please sign up early because there are only two sessions this year and spots will fill up fast. Harvest dates will be June 10th and 11th at King's Beach in Newport and June 24th and 25th at Fort Getty in Jamestown. Contact Stephany Hessler for more information. Also, view last year's results.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2010 - Strength in Numbers

This year Save The Bay will be celebrating 40 years of protecting the health of Narragansett Bay. Our theme for the celebration is Strength in Numbers. Over the last 40 years, we have seen many changes and made many victories, but there is much work ahead of us. We will be sharing some of these successes and challenges with you all year, highlighting the strength we gain from working together.

Our kickoff event will be the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, being shown in three venues across the state in February. These films are beautiful, funny and inspiring, and highlight many of things that we do as an organization and many of the things that make our work meaningful. While the films are set in places such as British Columbia, Puerto Rico and California, you will immediately see the connections with the issues we face at home.

There will be many opportunities this year to support and participate in our work. If these first few weeks are any indication, it is going to be a very busy year. Our habitat restoration program is partnering with several groups to remove dams and build fish ladders. Two dam removal projects, on the Pawtuxet River and the Pawcatuck River, are in the permitting process and should be completed this year. The Blackstone River fish ladder project is getting ready for installation, and the Ten Mile River fish ladders will be in the ground this year as well. Design for a new dam removal project on the Cotley River in Taunton will also begin this year – one of three dams to be removed in that city in the next few years.

We are also launching an exciting new project in collaboration with the Wood-Pawcatuck River Watershed Association, The Nature Conservancy and DEM to designate portions of the Wood, Pawcatuck, Beaver, Queen, and Chipuxet Rivers as federal Wild & Scenic Rivers. Based on the great success we have had with this program in the Taunton River watershed, we are looking forward to studying these Rhode Island rivers for this very special designation.

This will be the last year of eelgrass transplants, so make sure to save some time to come out and get wet this summer. Last year the program had 163 volunteers who transplanted 110,000 eelgrass shoots.

On the legislative front, we are back in swing with the General Assembly session. Recent political events have most likely killed federal cap and trade legislation, so we must focus on what we can do locally, such as reforming our transportation system and supporting renewable energy. We are also anticipating the completion of the Ocean SAMP, which will help guide our way into a new generation of offshore wind energy.

We cannot do this work alone. Please join us.