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Woonasquatucket and Blackstone Rivers Win Pilot Award for EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers River Revitalization Project
Release Date: 05/02/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008
BOSTON - In a ceremony on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River in Providence, top officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today announced plans to support ongoing efforts to clean up and revitalize the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket Rivers. The two rivers were jointly chosen as one of four current pilot projects nationwide in the two agencies’ joint Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative.
“The Woonasquatucket is fortunate to have a great many people from the community interested in its health and future,” said Steve Luftig, EPA’s senior advisor for re-use programs. “For years, it suffered, but today more and more people are responding to the obligation to be good stewards of our natural treasures and rivers.”
“Our goal is to make the Blackstone and Woonasquatucket rivers safe for swimming and fishing in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator for EPA’s New England Office. “Today I am pleased to announce a federal initiative that will bring more federal resources to achieve this goal.”
“We are pleased to be part of the Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative between the Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Environmental Protection Agency,” said District Engineer Col. Thomas Koning, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers New England District. “This is another example of how federal and state agencies, local communities and interested groups can work together to improve the environment for everyone.”
“This initiative represents a major step and significant opportunity to help local communities address the complex challenges associated with reclaiming an urban and forgotten river,” said Jenny Pereira, executive director of the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council. “The Council looks forward to working with the initiative partners to continue our efforts in making the Woonasquatucket swimmable and fishable by 2020.”
In July 2002, EPA and the Army Corps signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing the Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative. The initiative is designed to coordinate the planning and execution of urban river cleanup and restoration, including both environmental restoration and economic revitalization. Four pilot projects have been designated under the initiative, including the Woonasquatucket/Blackstone system, with four more to be announced later this year. Information about the Urban Rivers Restoration Initiative is available at: https://www.epa.gov/oswer/landrevitalization/urbanrivers
With the pilot project designation, the Woonasquatucket and Blackstone systems will be receiving extra attention and coordination from the EPA, the Army Corps and other agencies. EPA is providing an initial $50,000 for local organizations to improve coordination and outreach. Measurable goals of the project include improving water quality in the rivers, preventing contaminated sediments from being carried downstream, transforming contaminated sites along the rivers into economically viable properties or recreation areas, ensuring the safety of local drinking water supplies, restoring wetland habitats, and providing increased opportunities for recreational uses of the rivers.
The Blackstone and Woonasquatucket river system is significantly degraded, the result of more than 200 years of supporting the region’s industrial economy. Untreated discharges into the rivers contaminated them with heavy metals and contributed to the loss of fish and the degradation of wildlife habitat. The Woonasquatucket River also has high levels of dioxin in sediments and surface water, leading to warnings against swimming in and eating fish from the lower section. The Woonasquatucket is also a major contributor to contamination in Narragansett Bay. Additionally point and non-point pollution in the watershed leads to poor water quality.
In 1999, the Blackstone and the Woonasquatucket rivers were officially designated as American Heritage Rivers, among 14 rivers selected nationally. As part of this effort, EPA gave $237,100 to support the revitalization of the rivers. The grants were used for water quality monitoring, wetlands protection, River Ranger education programs, pollution abatement projects and a host of other activities.