Officials clash over Stafford Pond fishing tourney health impacts

Stafford Pond

Stafford Pond

Tournament boats and trailers pack the DEM ramp into Stafford Pond

 TIVERTON — The Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) and the Tiverton’s Stone Bridge Fire District are in a head-to-head dispute about the potential dangers posed by fishing tournaments to the quality of the pond water supply.

The 16 fishing tournaments scheduled for Stafford Pond over the next seven months will not present a risk of harm to the town water supply or to public health, the DOH said last week.

Not so, says Frank Raposa, who for nearly 40 years has headed the water authority that treats Stafford Pond water and delivers it to its thousands of water customers. Mr. Raposa believes the fishing tournaments are bad for the water supply.

“They absolutely do present a risk to the quality of water in the pond,” said Mr. Raposa, who since about 1973-74 has been Moderator of the Administrative Board of the Stone Bridge Fire District.

“You’ve got boats with up to 200 horsepower roaring around the pond during tournaments. It’s a shallow pond with all kinds of obstacles,” he said. “It’s beyond all comprehension. It’s the only drinking water for lots of people in town.”

“Put your boat in North Watuppa Pond and you’ll end up in the hoosegow in about 20 minutes,” Mr. Raposa says. “We have 1,100 customers and people are calling us asking, ‘what can we do?’ ”

In arriving at its conclusion, the DOH relies on its interpretation of a Rhode Island law dealing with water contamination (R.I.G.L. 46-14-1).

DOH spokeswoman Dara Chadwick said that “the Department of Health has reviewed this issue and determined that the risk posed by these tournaments,” and by the boating they entail on Stafford Pond, “does not pose sufficient risk to meet the threshold of the statute. When interpreting risk to drinking water under this statute, we consider the impact of treatment. Untreated surface water is unsafe to drink.”

Ms. Chadwick said, “treated water meets drinking water standards.”

Stafford Pond is the sole source of drinking water for thousands of Tiverton residents. Mr. Raposa says it’s the only reservoir in the state that allows boating.

Fishing tournaments on the pond, mainly for smallmouth bass, have been organized by the Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), which stocks the pond with fish, issues permits for the tournaments, and controls access to the only public boat ramp on the pond (owned by DEM).

Frank Raposa, at pond's edge behind Stone Bridge water treatment plant. talks about impact of tournament boats on water quality.

Frank Raposa, at pond’s edge behind Stone Bridge water treatment plant, talks about impact of tournament boats on water quality.

Mr. Raposa says DEM never consulted or notified the Stone Bridge authority about the 16 fishing tournaments before scheduling them. Town officials say the same thing. And it’s not just about the water.”The local residents are getting upset. What’s happening is the bass guys are creating a traffic jam over there,” Mr. Raposa says.

A 2006 publication ( “Your Guide to Protecting Stafford Pond,” available at www.edc.uri/homeasyst) says, “[o]ver the last several decades, the bottom of Stafford Pond has experienced a slow build up of sediments.” The “Guide” was funded through DEM by the Federal Clean Water Act.

The publication lists ways boats contribute to water quality problems in the pond, including by hazardous wastes (e.g. motor oil, fuel), erosion by wakes, nutrients from human and pet waste, and invasive species.

“And that’s another thing,”  says Mr. Raposa. “You don’t know where those boats have been.” There are no wash-out facilities at the DEM boat ramp on the pond that could cleanse he boats of  invasive species or help protect against their introduction, and DEM has announced no plans to protect against invasives.

Mr. Raposa said “turbulence stirs up a shallow pond, creating an algae problem. The Stone Bridge authority can handle it. All ponds have algae; we treat that. But we try to get the cause out of the way.”

Speaking about cooperation in recent years between local farmers, residents, and townspeople, Mr. Raposa said, “Everybody has been working together, to ensure the quality of the water in Stafford Pond.”

“And now the DEM,” he said, “they turn around and allow a very detrimental thing to happen.”

The risk posed to the public drinking water supply presented by the fishing tournaments was the subject of a Providence meeting at DEM headquarters on Feb. 28 between Tiverton and Stonebridge Fire District officials, the DEM, and a representative from DOH. Another meeting was supposed to have been scheduled, but no date has yet been set.

The water contamination statute DOH is interpreting prohibits “bathing, swimming, discharge of any sewage or drainage or refuse or polluting matter” that may “pollute or corrupt or impair” the quality or purity of a water body used as a source of drinking water.

Also prohibited by the law is “any activity” — which may lead a discharge of those polluting matters “in or on or in the immediate vicinity of” the water body used as a source of drinking water.

The water contamination law also contains a “catch all” phrase that gives DOH authority to monitor water quality.

It says that “any other activity in or on or in the immediate vicinity of any water body used as a source of public drinking water supply,” that DOH “deems to render the water supply injurious to health or to pose a potential significant risk to public health shall be prohibited or restricted.”

DOH spokeswoman Chadwick says DOH “monitors the quality” of water only after it has been treated, and only then as reported to it by “the system” that treats it, by which she apparently means the Stone Bridge Fire District.

She said DOH “will not be monitoring the tournaments.” That responsibility belongs to DEM, she says. And only if  “the system” reported test results that indicated a “water quality problem or public health issue” would DOH order additional testing, and only if “the system” reported an adverse event such as “a boat sinking resulting in a large release of fuel,” would DOH ask “the system” to conduct additional monitoring.

She says that “ambient water quality” is regulated by DEM under the Clean Water Act.

Ms. Chadwick says that only if swimming is allowed in a body of water does the DOH monitor untreated water. Since no swimming is allowed in Stafford Pond, she says, DOH doesn’t monitor untreated water there.

Mr. Raposa, who is around 80 years old, says “at this stage of my life I’d like to see a nice clean water supply.”

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