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RI Department of Environmental Management
235 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908
(401) 222-2771 TDD/(401) 222-4462
DEM ISSUES NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT PLAN
The document, Plan for Managing Nutrient Loadings to Rhode Island Waters, focuses primarily on wastewater treatment facilities, which are the largest source of nitrogen to Narragansett Bay. The plan includes measurable objectives, an implementation schedule, cost estimates, funding sources, targets, and limitations for achieving a 50 percent reduction in nitrogen discharges from wastewater treatment facilities by 2008. That goal, first recommended by DEM, was subsequently adopted in the spring of 2004 by the Governor's Narragansett Bay and Watershed Planning Commission, and then signed into law as a statutory mandate during the 2004 legislative session.
Excess nutrients stimulate algae growth, which robs water of the oxygen necessary to fish and shellfish. Although Rhode Island has had much success in improving water quality in the Bay, events like the massive fish kill of 2003 raised awareness of the need to accelerate the state's pollution control efforts and adopt more ambitious targets, in particular for nitrogen removal.
Reducing Nitrogen Discharges from Treatment Facilities
Traditionally, wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs) have been designed to eliminate organic pollutants, solids, and harmful bacteria. Since 1998, DEM has been working with facilities to implement interim and permanent system changes to reduce the amount of nitrogen discharged. A total of 11 WWTFs that discharge to the upper Bay and its tributaries have been identified for nitrogen control. The RI Pollution Discharge Elimination System (RIPDES) permits for six of the 11 facilities - Burrillville, Smithfield, Cranston, Warwick, West Warwick and East Greenwich - currently include appropriate requirements for nitrogen removal. In July 2004, DEM issued preliminary draft RIPDES permit modifications establishing nitrogen limits for four of the other facilities -- the Narragansett Bay Commission's Fields Point and Bucklin Point plants, the East Providence Water Pollution Control Facility, and the Woonsocket Wastewater Treatment Facility. The proposed permit changes would establish seasonal total nitrogen limits from April through October, and also require the wastewater treatment facilities to continue to operate all available treatment equipment throughout the rest of the year in order to maximize the benefits of the wastewater treatment facility improvements. A hearing on the proposed permit changes was held earlier this month (February 8). It is anticipated that one additional permit modification will be necessary to effect nutrient reductions at the Warren Wastewater Treatment Facility. DEM expects to issue a draft permit for the Warren facility in about three months.
As part of Rhode Island's nutrient removal initiative, DEM and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission have been providing training for wastewater treatment facility operators. The training has focused on opportunities for plant modifications and/or operational changes to achieve interim reductions in nutrient discharges prior to the completion of permanent upgrades. Some significant short-term reductions have been achieved (e.g., the Warwick facility was able to remove about 85 percent of the ammonia and 50 percent of the nitrogen in its discharge prior to the completing construction of its permanent upgrade), and additional reductions are being pursued at the Warren, East Providence, and East Greenwich facilities.
DEM is also continuing to work with the US Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts to pursue nitrogen reductions from the Massachusetts wastewater treatment facilities that impact the Providence and Seekonk Rivers.
As a result of the regulatory actions being taken, the training being offered, and the strong response by the facilities, significant progress toward reducing nitrogen discharges from the State's wastewater treatment facilities is well underway. According to the plan, by this summer, the modifications that have been and are being enacted should result in a 34 percent reduction over the amount of nitrogen discharged from the state's 11 wastewater treatment facilities (since 1995-96). The additional upgrades called for by the new permits are expected to push that figure to 50 percent by 2008.
Financial Support for Facility Upgrades
According to the Plan, available and proposed State bond funds are expected to provide sufficient loan capacity to support the treatment facility modifications necessary to achieve the 50 percent nutrient reduction goal. Through the State Revolving Fund (SRF), administered by the RI Clean Water Finance Agency, low-interest loans are made available to eligible communities and sewer commissions for facility upgrades. In November 2004, Rhode Island voters approved a bond measure, proposed by Governor Carcieri and approved by the General Assembly, that included $10.5 million to further capitalize the SRF Program. The Governor has also offered his commitment to propose an additional $20.2 million in funding for facility upgrades as part of a follow-up bond referendum on the 2006 ballot. In combination, the two State bonds will equip the SRF Program with the amount necessary to provide full support, via low-interest loans, for all of the remaining work.
Other Nitrogen Reduction Efforts Underway
Besides wastewater treatment facilities, there are many other sources of nitrogen to the Upper Bay, including storm water, ISDS systems, and atmospheric deposition. The Plan underscores the importance of the several other pollution prevention and treatment measures that are being implemented by DEM, CRMC, and other agencies to reduce nutrients from these other sources.
Water quality restoration plans addressing nutrient impairments are underway for a number of coastal embayments and rivers discharging to the Bay, including Greenwich Bay, Kickemuit River and Reservoir, Ninigret and Green Hill Ponds, and Palmer River. These plans identify sources of nutrients and necessary actions to restore water quality, including both point source and non-point sources of pollution.
Also, many efforts are underway to prevent water quality impacts associated with storm water runoff in undeveloped areas, and to enhance the treatment and management of storm water from urban and agricultural areas. These include initiatives such as Grow Smart RI and the Governor's Growth Planning Council; watershed-based project to identify, protect and restore riparian buffers; and public education and municipal assistance efforts to encourage low impact development. The state Department of Transportation and 36 municipalities are working on a major effort to better manage urban storm water through the development and implementation of storm water management plans.
The full report is available on DEM's website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on Publications/Regulations from the homepage, then by clicking Plan for Managing Nutrient Loadings to Rhode Island Waters under Water Quality.