Despite evidence that often points to the contrary, many bodies of water around the country stand as prime examples of how environmental quality can be improved with the proper will and effort.
Take, for instance, Narragansett Bay, located on the north side of the Rhode Island Sound. Located near some of America’s oldest settlements, the bay has served as a dumping ground for pollutants, sewage, and toxic metals since the Industrial Revolution. As a result, it became one of the most nitrogen-laden water bodies in the country.
However, thanks to the U.S EPA’s Clean Water Act, the state’s environmental regulators, and upgrades at local wastewater treatment facilities, Narragansett Bay has undergone a remarkable transformation
“About 15 years ago, [the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] proposed regulations on wastewater management facilities emptying directly into Narragansett Bay,” said Dr. Candace Oviatt, who led a decade-long study on the bay’s water quality with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, per Rhode Island Sea Grant. “They had a goal of reducing the nitrogen input by 50 percent by 2014. And I’m here to tell you they succeeded.”
The dramatic improvement can be traced back to local wastewater treatment plants, where the nitrogen being input into the bay has been reduced by 65 percent. “The decade-long study financed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration focused on discharges from 11 Rhode Island wastewater treatment plants, which are the main source of nitrogen — a nutrient that feeds algae and can ultimately lead to low oxygen levels in the water,” reported The Providence Journal. “Under regulations enacted after a massive fish kill in Greenwich Bay in 2003 that was caused by a lack of oxygen, the treatment plants were required to reduce nitrogen discharges by 50 percent.”
With wastewater plants having done their part, the state is searching for other ways to decrease nutrient levels even more.
“For now, the state is gauging what has been done so far and considering ways to address other sources of nutrients, such as runoff,” The Providence Journal reported. “Officials are also looking at natural methods of filtering nutrients, including expanding shellfish beds, and planting eelgrass.”