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DEM Announces Establishment of Conditional Shellfish Closure Areas in Point Judith Pond

PROVIDENCE The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announces that based on ongoing water quality monitoring results, two areas of Point Judith Pond are being reclassified from approved to conditionally approved for shellfish harvesting. The changes will take effect at sunrise on Saturday, February 1. These areas are shown on the map and described below:

Growing Area 10-8: All waters of Point Judith Pond and Wheatfield Cove north of a line from the light pole located on Turner Point (so-called "Senior Hill") on Camp Fuller Road on the western shore of the pond in South Kingstown to the extension of the CRMC R.O.W. C-12 near the intersection of Isle Point Road and Cedar Island Road on Harbour Island in Narragansett and south of line from the DEM range marker located in Smelt Brook Cove to the DEM range marker located at the northwest tip of Pine Tree Point.

Growing Area 10-9: All waters of Point Judith Pond east of Ram Island located south and east of a line from the extension of Flintstone Road on Harbour Island in Narragansett that follows the old submerged road to Ram Island and south of a line from the northernmost corner of the riprap bulkhead at the Briggs Farm Improvement Association parking lot to the northeast landward end of CRMC dock # 1690 on the opposite shore and north of a line from the most southeastern point of Ram Island to the end of Indian Rock Farm Road at the northern tip of Locke Point in Narragansett including Walcott Cove.

"Based on consistent scientific monitoring and testing that DEM and the Rhode Island Department of Health have conducted on Point Judith Pond, it is clear that rainfall of 1.4 inches or more causes exceedances of the water quality standards," said Angelo S. Liberti, Administrator of DEM's Surface Water Protection unit. "We are acting to protect public health, establish clear requirements for when harvesting will be allowed, and provide more predictability for shellfish diggers and aquaculturists."

Shellfish commercially harvested from these areas should be identified as harvested from tagging area 6PA. Commercial harvesters should continue to identify shellfish harvested from all other areas of Point Judith and Potters Pond where harvesting is allowed as harvested from tagging area 6P.

In 2019, water samples collected in Point Judith Pond after certain rain events had elevated bacteria levels and resulted in several emergency and precautionary shellfishing closures. Wet weather sampling studies conducted by DEM's Office of Water Resources have determined that it is necessary to close these areas of Point Judith Pond to shellfish harvesting after 1.4 inches or more of rainfall in 24 hours as measured at the Nation Weather Service rain gauge at Westerly Airport. According to data collected at Westerly Airport between 2000 and 2019, rainfall of 1.4 inches or more occurs three to 10 times per year, with an average of six times a year.

Earlier this week, DEM met with the Point Judith Pond workgroup at South Kingstown Town Hall to announce the changes, share data and findings, and discuss efforts by state and local government to identify and mitigate sources of bacteria to the pond such as water quality restoration plans and shoreline surveys, and review next steps and opportunities for collaboration. Among those invited to the meeting were representatives from the Towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett; RI Departments of Health, Transportation, and RI Coastal Resources Management Council; East Coast Shellfish Growers Association; Ocean State Aquaculture Association; Rhode Island Shellfisherman's Association; Salt Ponds Coalition; Watershed Watch; Save The Bay; Southern RI Conservation District; and aquaculture farmers.

The upper reaches of Point Judith Pond have been closed to shellfish harvesting since the 1940s due to elevated bacteria levels. The closure line has changed over time, and for the past 15 years has been an effective management tool to delineate waters having unacceptable water quality for shellfish harvesting. However, in recent years some approved areas have shown declining water quality during wet weather, necessitating the new conditional closure areas.

Stormwater is a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria in the Saugatucket River, the major tributary draining into Point Judith Pond. The combination of development around the pond, the prevalence of aging treatment systems for domestic waste disposal, and the extent of impervious surfaces in the urban villages of Peacedale and Wakefield contribute to high fecal coliform discharges to the Saugatucket River and Point Judith Pond in wet weather.

Currently, it is not necessary to establish a conditional closure area for other coastal or salt ponds. However, all shellfish waters may from time to time be closed due to unforeseen circumstances or situations that pose a potential threat to shellfish harvesting. DEM will enact shellfish closures for all salt ponds after 2.5 inches or more of rainfall. Based on rainfall data from Westerly Airport collected between 2000 and 2019, rainfall of 2.5 or more inches occurs once per year on average.

For information regarding where you can harvest shellfish, please refer to the interactive Shellfish Map on the Shellfishing page on DEM's website. For more information about shellfish classifications and the legal descriptions of all shellfish closures, visit www.dem.ri.gov. DEM maintains a 24-hour shellfishing hotline, providing information on emergency and conditional area shellfish closures: 401-222-2900.

DEM's Office of Water Resources has established a listserv to email notifications of conditional area and emergency shellfish harvesting closures (e.g. harmful alga blooms, sewage releases, etc.). To receive these notifications, please click here RishellfishOWR-subscribe@listserve.ri.gov. You will receive a confirmation email that you need to accept to complete the sign up (check spam or junk mailbox).

Follow DEM on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) or Facebook and follow RIDOH on Twitter (@RIHEALTH) or Facebook for information and timely updates.

Related links

  • Department or agency: Department of Environmental Management
  • Online: http://www.dem.ri.gov/
  • Release date: 01-30-2020

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