Narragansett’s Benefit to Storm Water: Quahogs

The Narragansett Bay Commission, which operates the major sewage treatment plants for Rhode Island, recently opened the first phase of the combined sewer outfall (CSO) pollution abatement system – a planned series of tunnels that will collect waste water during rain storms and hold it until it can be properly treated. This is a common solution to the problems of CSO’s, and it’s anticipated that the outcome will be cleaner water in the upper bay. As this might result in the opening of waters long-closed to commercial shell fishing, an assessment is being conducted of the potential impact of quahog larval supply and distribution, as well as an analysis of production and market impacts if quahog landings from the upper bay increase. Shellfish are arguably Rhode Island’s most valuable resource. Just as the many beaches are a tourist attraction, the state’s quahogs, oysters and clams are an additional interest. The shellfish that inhabit Rhode Island waters are part of the Ocean State’s social and cultural fabric, and are integral pieces of a marine ecosystem that provides economic, employment, recreational and environmental benefits.

Bacteria levels are down dramatically in upper Narragansett Bay over the last seven years, since the completion of the first phase of a massive public works project to contain and treat contaminated storm water. According to the latest report from the Narragansett Bay Commission, levels of bacteria have been reduced by 50 percent in the wake of construction of a 3-mile long, 26-foot-wide tunnel deep under the city that can store tainted runoff. The size of the reduction is significantly larger than the 40-percent decrease that was estimated when the Combined Sewer Overflow Project was first devised.

Interesting fact: A small oyster farm can clean as much as 100 million gallons of water a day.

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