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Release Date: 04/25/2000
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced a $3 million grant to the towns of New Shoreham, South Kingstown and Charlestown to help the communities develop innovative septic-system management programs for protecting sensitive ecosystems such as Green Hill Pond and the Great Salt Pond.

The $3 million grant - $1.5 million to New Shoreham, $1 million to South Kingstown and $500,000 to Charlestown - will pay for technical assistance, new municipal staffing, septic system upgrades/replacements and other components of the wastewater management programs the towns will be developing over the next four years. The grant will be used in partnership with the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, which will provide extensive technical and program support to the three communities.

"Block Island, South Kingstown and Charlestown are blessed with some of New England's richest and most valuable ecosystems, but all of that could be lost if pollution from the thousands of individual septic systems in these towns isn't brought under control," said Mindy S. Lubber, regional administrator at EPA's New England Office, who announced the grant at a press conference at South Kingstown Town Beach. "This grant will make it possible for the towns to better manage their septic systems - both old systems and new ones being planned - so that shellfish beds, groundwater supplies and other important resources in these watersheds can be better protected."

The project in Rhode Island is one of only six in the country selected as national demonstration sites for developing community septic-system management programs.

"These three towns are ahead of the game in developing local programs and ordinances for managing septic systems," Lubber said. "Today's grant will push them over the finish line in tackling this complex challenge. And the result will be far better protection of critical resources such as Great Salt Pond and Green Hill Pond."

"Countless residents enjoy spending a day on our shores boating or swimming," said Governor Lincoln Almond. "Many depend on our waters for their livelihood. That's why we continue to do all that we can to safeguard Narragansett Bay and our salt ponds. Today we are furthering our efforts to combat pollution, improve water quality and enhance septic systems. All told, this is about doing the right thing for our environment. It's about good watershed stewardship."

"I applaud town leaders in Charlestown, South Kingstown and Block Island for working with URI to seek out new wastewater treatment technologies that will better protect our precious and fragile coastal areas," said U.S. Senator Lincoln D. Chafee. "Protection of coastal watersheds is a top priority for Rhode Island and EPA's $3 million grant will be put to good use. I look forward to feedback from the towns and URI as I work to strengthen the Clean Water Act."

The project will fundamentally change how individual septic systems are regulated and maintained in these three towns. Instead of making wastewater treatment decisions based on the capacity of individual house lots, the new program will enable the towns to manage septic systems based on their cumulative effects on their watersheds and sensitive ecosystems within those watersheds.

The grant will allow added water quality monitoring and technical work in the towns, which will lead to better management of new and existing septic systems as well as utilization of advanced treatment systems in the most sensitive areas. Among the ways the towns will achieve this is by determining sustainable septic-system management practices and site-specific performance standards for controlling pollutant discharges from septic systems.

New Shoreham, which faces the twin challenge of numerous outdated septic systems and a high seasonal wastewater load that threaten both the island's sole-source aquifer and shellfish harvesting waters, has already invested significant resources in tackling the septic system management issue. Among those steps was the adoption of watershed-based performance standards in 1998 that require new and existing septic systems to meet site-specific treatment standards.

"The water quality on Block Island is presently very good," said New Shoreham First Warden Richard Kiley. "But we're worried that continued new development and old septic systems will negatively impact water quality in the near future. And that could have a direct impact on the island's economy. This grant will allow us to accelerate the implementation of wastewater performance standards adopted by the town in 1998."

The grant money will support Block Island's efforts in these specific ways:

    • $90,000 for design, site evaluation and construction of innovative repairs to12 existing substandard septic systems.
    • $280,000 for 800 tank retrofits to existing septic system tanks.
    • $145,000 of additional financial assistance for repairs and upgrades to existing septic systems, with preference given to low-income property owners and septic systems in sensitive areas.
    • $74,000 to support seven water quality monitoring stations in the Great Salt Pond.
    • $167,000 for an on-site wastewater specialist, GIS work and program clerk support.
Green Hill Pond, which is bordered by South Kingstown and Charlestown, is compromised by numerous substandard septic systems that are blamed for high bacteria counts that caused the closure of the pond to shellfishing in 1997 as well as the contamination of several shallow private wells.

"South Kingstown and Charlestown are facing tremendous development pressures," said South Kingstown Town President Barbara Hackey. "Our goal with this grant is to prevent the pollution of our groundwater supplies and restore Green Hill Pond to full health."

Among the ways the grant money will be used in Charlestown and South Kingstown:

    • $90,000 for design, site evaluation and construction of innovative repairs to 12 substandard septic systems (eight systems in South Kingstown, four systems in Charlestown).
    • $214,000 of financial assistance for repairs and upgrades to existing septic systems, with preference given to low-income property owners and septic systems in sensitive areas.
    • $36,000 to support seven water quality monitoring stations in Green Hill Pond.
    • $344,000 for two on-site wastewater specialists, GIS work and program clerk support.
The three communities will all collaborate with the University of Rhode island Cooperative Extension on the implementation of their individual projects. URI is a national leader in evaluating new septic-system technologies, with much of its work being done through its On-Site Wastewater Training Center on the URI campus where nearly two-dozen full-sized innovative treatment and leaching systems are constructed above ground for hands-on learning. Additionally, URI has already constructed 30 demonstration systems as repairs in sensitive coastal areas.

URI sponsors a variety of other water quality programs, including Home*A*Syst (a residential pollution prevention education program), Watershed Watch (an award-winning, volunteer-based water quality monitoring program) and a Municipal Watershed Training Program.

"With URI's long-time commitment to water quality research, outreach and education, we can use our expertise to assist the three project communities to successfully implement their wastewater management programs," said Arthur Gold, director of the URI Cooperative Extension's water quality programs, which will receive more than $600,000 of grant money to provide technical and program support for the communities.