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EPA Announces Funding to Improve Monitoring and Water Quality at RI Beaches

Release Date: 08/29/2003
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1008

WARREN, RI - Flanked by Rhode Island Governor Donald L. Carcieri and the state’s top health and environmental officials, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office today announced a $212,340 grant to the R.I. Department of Health to improve and expand water quality monitoring and public notification programs at the state’s coastal beaches.

Susan Studlien, director of EPA New England’s Office of Site Remediation and Restoration, made the announcement at Warren Town Beach, one of three Rhode Island beaches designated as "Flagship" beaches last year as part of the agency’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative. Flagship beaches are designed to serve as models for improving beach water quality.

The grant comes amid a dramatic upturn in beach closures across the region this summer due to bacterial pollution. The closures are a direct result of this summer’s heavy rains which increase the amount of pollution entering the state’s waterways from storm water runoff, failing septic systems and other pollution sources.

Nineteen of Rhode Island’s coastal beaches have been closed at least one day this summer due to pollution. The total number of closure days at the coastal beaches has been 284 days, a near four-fold jump from last summer when eight coastal beaches were closed a total of 76 days. The vast majority of the closure days this summer have been at the state’s seven Upper Bay beaches, including Warren Town Beach and Goddard Memorial State Park.

“We’ve made progress cleaning our waters across New England, but we still have a long way to go in making all of our beaches safe for swimming,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “The scale and frequency of the beach closures this summer in Rhode Island has been a jarring wake-up call and it’s unacceptable.”

“The high number of beach closings this summer has had a significant impact on individuals, families and businesses across Rhode Island,” added Governor Carcieri, who this week announced the formation of a SWAT team of scientists to investigate the causes of the recent spate of beach closings and other incidents affecting Narragansett Bay. "EPA's funding of this program will provide Rhode Island with some of the extra resources we need to effectively monitor our beaches and to protect the public from pollution. We appreciate the federal government's commitment in helping us preserve and protect our natural resources.”

EPA has awarded Rhode Island nearly $500,000 since 2001 to support and expand the state’s beach monitoring programs. The state awarded Rhode Island $58,000 in EPA funds in 2001 and $214,225 last year to boost its efforts to monitor and clean local beaches, while keeping the public informed about beach pollution and monitoring.

EPA has made a total of $10 million available this year to help 35 states and territories improve water quality monitoring at beaches and public notification about pollution problems. The funding was made possible by the federal Beach Act approved by Congress in 2000.

Launched last summer, EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative selected 11 flagship beaches across New England, including Warren Town Beach, Goddard Memorial State Park and Newport’s King Park Swim Area in Rhode Island. Flagship beaches are designed to serve as models for improving beach water quality.

Studlien praised the Town of Warren for its work with the state in identifying a primary source of bacterial contamination to the Town Beach. “The Town of Warren is setting the bar in demonstrating a commitment to take the tough steps necessary to identify and eliminate pollution sources,” she said.

“We’ve made a good start with communities such as Warren in identifying what the problems are, but we really need this ongoing support from EPA to keep it going,” said Dr. Patricia A. Nolan, director of the RI Department of Health, which operates the state’s beach monitoring program.