It’s been a good year for most East Bay beaches.
In Warren, the town beach has been closed for just two days due to high bacteria counts, while in Bristol the town beach has not been closed a single day. In Barrington, the town beach has been closed seven days. Last year there wasn’t a single lost day to closures.
Here in town, a water quality improvement project will begin this fall at the beach and the results should prove to limit runoff from entering the bay as well as prevent beach erosion.
Barrington Town manager Peter DeAngelis said the beach closures are an issue the town is working on and the project has been sent out to bid.
“We are in the process of making drainage improvements at the beach. It is disappointing that we have had these closures especially since it’s such a short season to begin with. With the hottest July on record, heavy rain and runoff from the streets, we haven’t been able to flush out what is causing the high bacteria levels.
“We do have a great testing program with a 24-hour turnaround time. It is our intention to keep residents informed in the event that we have to close the beach to swimmers,” Mr. DeAngelis said.
The Rhode Island Department of Health tests water samples from licensed beaches Monday through Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. When bacteria levels of any licensed beach reach a predetermined threshold, the department recommends that the beach be closed to swimming.
The water quality project in Barrington will address runoff issues on the west end of the parking lot — in particular, the steep paved slope at the end of Water Way.
Philip Hervey, Barrington’s town planner, said that particular drainage slope will be upgraded and offer a gentler system of allowing stormwater runoff to enter the bay.
“We are planning a simplified drainage system on Water Way to slow the water down with plantings and rip-rap,” Mr. Hervey said.
Also on the west end of the parking lot, super high tides in recent years have eroded the parking lot and the solution will be to move the paved area back by about 10 feet, he said.
There will be a loss of a few parking spots on that end of the parking lot but about 15 spots near the beach building will be added.
Improvements to that end of the beach will include rain gardens, overflow parking access and bike racks. Along the length of the beach, the guardrails and eroded pavement will be replaced and the old cinder block beach house at the end of Bay Road will be removed.
“The old beach house is in the velocity flood zone and we need that area for vehicles to gain access to the west end of the beach,” Mr. Hervey said.
“It’s a very tight corner as it is. We are also putting in a new beach shower. The entire beach will look a whole lot better.”
The Town of Bristol embarked on a stormwater management project to prevent run off from flowing directly into the bay last year, and those efforts were applauded by Save The Bay, the non-profit organization that serves as a watchdog for Narragansett Bay and its watersheds, at a press conference on July 31.
Jonathan Stone, executive director at Save The Bay, said beach closures are not simply about heavy rainfalls. The reasons beaches are closed, he said, are a culmination of many factors.
“It’s not just about the rain, but rather what the rainfall carries into the Bay — lawn chemicals, automotive fluids, and pet waste that gets rinsed from the earth and eventually into Narragansett Bay,” he said.
“We can fix the problem of local polluted run-off. At a state level, Rhode Island voters have overwhelmingly approved investments in upgrading our wastewater treatment plants. The Providence Combined Sewer Overflow system is a prime example.”
Beach closures associated with wastewater treatment plant overflows have declined dramatically since 2009 after the CSO tunnel was near completed.
The closures that Rhode Island is seeing this summer are most likely associated with local pollution such as leaking cesspools and stormwater runoff, say officials.
“This problem can be solved,” Mr. Stone said. “Look at Bristol, a town that used to experience repeated beach closures at their town beach. Bristol has had no beach closures this summer.”
The Town of Bristol has invested in the capture and treatment of polluted run-off and wastewater from failed septic systems through rain gardens, vegetative swales, and the relocation of a parking lot.
Funding for the $270,000 project was from a bond taxpayers approved for street and drainage improvements and allocated through the Rhode Island Department of Management Clean Water Fund.
As of July 31, the state has seen a total of 107 days of beach closures. The majority of the closures have been on the opposite side of Narragansett Bay.
— By Joan D. Warren