NBC, RIDEM Announce Consent Agreement

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) announce the execution of a Consent Agreement (CA) that will direct the NBC’s clean water efforts. The CA addresses the protections against water pollution that the NBC currently meets and needs to address in its Rhode Island Pollution Discharge Elimination System (RIPDES) permits for Narragansett Bay and its tributary rivers in the metropolitan Providence and Blackstone Valley areas.

One of the key initiatives included in the CA is Phase III of the NBC’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project, the centerpiece of which is a deep rock tunnel in Pawtucket and Central Falls to capture storm-related sewage overflows and transport those flows to the NBC’s Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) in East Providence for full treatment. Phases I and II of the NBC’s CSO project went on-line in 2008 and 2014, respectively, and have captured and treated over 10 billion gallons of storm-related sewage at the NBC’s Field’s Point WWTF in Providence. As a result of the success of CSO Phases I and II, DEM revised shellfishing closure rules in 2017, removing the “Conditional” status from Area B, an area north of Providence Point and south of Rocky Point that had restricted harvesting based on rainfall for 70 years, and significantly relaxed the rainfall-related closure criteria in Conditional Area A, a highly productive shellfishing area north of Rocky Point and south of Conimicut Point.

In consideration of the costs associated with the estimated $765 million project, the CA extends the construction timeline for CSO Phase III in a fiscally responsible manner to try to mitigate the impacts to NBC’s 80,000 rate-paying customers while also ensuring significant improvements to water quality.

“This agreement is another giant step forward in our decades-long effort to clean up our rivers and Narragansett Bay,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “By addressing the weaknesses in our antiquated infrastructure, we continue reducing the sewage and other pollutants that wash into our waters during storm events. Rhode Islanders deserve to enjoy all the benefits of a clean Bay!”

“We appreciate the cooperative spirit in which Director Coit and her staff negotiated the CA with the NBC,” said NBC Executive Director Laurie Horridge. “Affordability is a huge issue in large projects like CSO. Extending the timeline for Phase III construction will help manage the affordability of the project for NBC’s ratepayers.”

The Rhode Island General Assembly directed the NBC to take over the failing wastewater treatment facility at Field’s Point in Providence in 1980. At that time, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) deemed the facility the second worst municipal pollution problem in New England. By 1995, EPA heralded the NBC’s Field’s Point facility as the best in the nation. In 1992, the General Assembly also legislated the ownership of the Bucklin Point WWTF to the NBC. Since that time, both Field’s Point and Bucklin Point have received numerous regional and national awards for treatment excellence.

“All Rhode Islanders should be thankful to NBC’s ratepayers who have funded the infrastructure improvements that have resulted in the incredible water quality improvements observed throughout the Bay,” said NBC’s Horridge, “and also for their support of NBC’s robust environmental monitoring program. By consistently testing and analyzing the Bay and rivers, we are able to quantify the benefits of our work, a Bay cleaner than it has been in our lifetime and a more vibrant economy for communities across Narragansett Bay.”

NBC’s rates are about in the middle both statewide and nationwide. After full implementation of Phase III, in 2045, rates are estimated to rise to about the level that Boston is paying now and about half of what Seattle is paying now. Phase III has been divided into stages parts A-D and projects with the greatest environmental impacts occur in the earlier stages. Based on a typical year, Phase IIIA will reduce the annual volume of CSOs from the Bucklin Point sewer system approximately 82% (93% after full implementation expected by 2045). NBC will complete design for the Phase IIIA and B by June 30, 2020 and complete construction of Phase IIIA in 2027/2028. NBC will also evaluate financial conditions and notify DEM whether it is appropriate to expedite construction of Phase IIIB.

The CA also calls for the NBC to develop and submit to DEM for review a Resiliency Plan to deal with the impacts of climate change on the NBC’s critical clean water facilities, and establish a working group to provide recommendations to NBC on the feasibility of a web-based notification process to inform the public of when and where CSOs discharge. In addition, the CA includes draft modifications to the NBC RIPDES permits for the Bucklin Point and Fields Point treatment facilities. DEM will accept public comments on the proposed modifications through March 8, and if requested, a public hearing will be held on Thursday, March 7 at 5:00 p.m. at DEM’s Providence headquarters. To learn if a public hearing will be held, contact Joseph Habarek in DEM’s Office of Water Resources at 222-4700 ext. 7715. The public notice on the draft permit modification is posted on DEM’s website at   http://dem.ri.gov/programs/benviron/water/pn/ripdes/PN19-03_s.pdf