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Watersheds
Watersheds

The preservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable use of Rhode Island's natural resources will be achieved through the involvement and collaboration of a broad spectrum of people who live, work, and play within a watershed area.

What is the Watershed Approach?
The watershed approach is a smarter way of managing our natural resources. It brings together government agencies, interest groups, businesses and citizens to work on environmental issues ranging from water quality protection to open space acquisition within a watershed. Watershed partners share ideas, pool resources and work together to meet common goals to protect the environment on a regional basis.

Coordinating Effective Management of Watershed Resources through Community-based Planning
In 1999, the Department appointed Scott Millar to coordinate implementation of the watershed approach and appointed a
watershed coordinator for each priority watershed. The Department also helped establish teams for the RI Watershed Approach
and the two pilot areas.

The Pilot Watershed Teams - the South County Watershed Partnership, and the Woonasquatucket River American Heritage River Steering Committee - are comprised of community organizations, local businesses, and government and non-governmental organizations. The watershed teams give local stakeholders the chance to take part in identifying watershed issues and planning and implementing solutions.

The watershed coordinators work with watershed constituents to build their capacity to protect, preserve, and restore the environment. The coordinators work with DEM staffers and other organizations, to bring expertise, resources, and projects into a holistic program for the watersheds by preparing annual work plans, watershed plans, and by coordinating implementation. A separate work plan for each pilot watershed makes DEM offices responsible for carrying out activities and creating timelines for meeting specific performance measures.

DEM also provided support to the Watershed Approach Coordinating Council of leaders from state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, private industry and other partners. The Coordinating Council addresses statewide watershed needs, such as volunteer training, organizational capacity, funding, scientific research and information management to help implement local watershed efforts. DEM also participates in the Partners in Resource Protection (PRP) which has broad representation from resource management organizations. The PRP helped to develop the watershed approach and provides technical support to the Coordinating Council.

South County Watershed Region
The South County Watersheds are comprised of five watersheds: the Pettaquamscutt, Pawcatuck, Annaquatucket, Saugatucket, and the coastal ponds, (see map) and include the towns in Washington County plus West Greenwich. These are North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Narragansett, Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond, Westerly, and West Greenwich.

South County communities have experienced the greatest growth of any part of Rhode Island in the past decade. The Washington County Regional Planning Council was formed to address changes to community character and the environment from rapid and unplanned growth. This includes using up greenspace, the costs of extending roads, water, and sewer lines and threats to water supplies. The Department is working with the Council and many other partners on projects to deal with these issues.

Department assistance to watershed communities through The Rural Lands Coalition, Washington County Regional Planning Council, and the South County Watersheds Technical Planning Assistance Program included developing alternative land use ordinances for conservation development; determining the feasibility of using a transfer of development rights (TDR) system to protect farmland, forestland and open space; and providing educational outreach to watershed communities.DEM also began working with the Rural Lands Coalition and the Washington County Regional Planning Council on the South County Watersheds Greenspace Protection & Implementation Strategy. The Strategy sets priorities for acquisition and helps to guide growth to designated areas and away from environmental, recreational and cultural protection priorities identified by local constituents.

DEM works with stakeholders, including the state Water Resources Board, EPA, NRCS and the USGS, farmers, golf course operators, water suppliers, town planners, environmentalists and recreational users, to deal with issues of water supply and allocation. The stakeholders group began studies to determine whether the Wood Pawcatuck can continue to provide water to meet all needs without degrading habitat; and if not, what to do about it. The group is developing models of the Queens-Usquepaug sub-basin to determine the effects of water withdrawals on flow rates and on wildlife, as a basis for strategies that will maintain flow to support wildlife as well as sustainable water supply needs. The stakeholders will use the study results to inform discussion on supply and allocation issues. The Department also began a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study to improve water quality for the Narrow River and Green Hill Pond that will be submitted to EPA in 2000.

Controlling Pollution and Restorating Uses in The Woonasquatucket River Watershed
The Department continued to work in the Urban Rivers Team. The team focuses on the Woonasquatucket River until priority issues such as dioxins are controlled.

The Woonasquatucket River watershed encompasses most of the Town of Smithfield as well as parts of North Smithfield, Glocester, Johnston, and Providence. The 18 mile river arises in a rural area, flows into increasingly urbanized territory and ends at Waterplace Park in Providence. The River suffers from the cumulative impacts of industrial contaminants such as dioxins and PCBs in urban stretches. Other problems include excess nutrient loading, abandoned industrial sites, litter and illegal dumping of solid waste. While some stretches of the urban river bank are surprisingly healthy, others are degraded and provide poor habitat.

In 1999, the Department began work with the American Heritage River Steering Committee, the Urban Rivers Team, and the USEPA River Navigator to coordinate watershed efforts and to produce a State of the Watershed report. DEM also began a restoration plan for the Woonasquatucket River watershed. One element of the plan is the Department's effort with Smithfield to abate excess nutrient loading from the wastewater treatment facility that depletes dissolved oxygen in the Woonasquatucket. Another element is curtailing illegal discharges. After EPA's 1997 reconnaissance of the river identified pipes discharging into the river during dry weather, they have investigated illicit and inappropriate discharges. DEM will work with towns and environmentalists to identify the sources of discharges and take enforcement or other remedial action.

DEM will use a $67,000 Watershed and Clean Water Action grant received from USDA Forest Service in 1999 on behalf of the Woonasquatucket American Heritage River Steering Committee to improve the river and its banks. The river and its tributaries will be surveyed to determine sites for vegetated buffers; at least one site will be chosen for re-vegetation to serve as a model for future projects.

DEM and partners are creating recreational opportunities, such as the Woonasquatucket River Greenway to revitalize the area. The Greenway, 4.4 miles of bike path, will connect the center of Providence and the Providence Place Mall with Olneyville and Johnston, and to Smithfield through DOT's Northwest Bike Trail, increasing the park land accessible to low income populations in an area that does not meet national standards for the amount of recreational land. Partners include the City of Providence, the R.I. Department of Transportation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. E.P.A., and the Providence Plan.