Final Report: EMPACT Project for Narragansett Bay / Mount Hope Bay, Providence, Rhode Island / Fall River, Massachusetts

EPA Grant Number: R827969
Title: EMPACT Project for Narragansett Bay / Mount Hope Bay, Providence, Rhode Island / Fall River, Massachusetts
Investigators: Pavignano, Sharon L. , Deacutis, Christopher , Ellis, Taylor , Galagan, Christopher , Hickox, Sara C. , Howes, Brian , Howlett, Eoin , Kester, Dana , Mariscal, Juan , Rines, Henry , Scowcroft, Gail A. , Sullivan, Terry , Szelag, Jan
Institution: The Narragansett Bay Commission , Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management , University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth , University of Rhode Island
EPA Project Officer: Hiscock, Michael
Project Period:    
Project Amount: $635,648
RFA: Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Statistics , Water , Ecosystems , Air , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The primary objective of this EMPACT project was to provide information to the public about the constantly changing water quality conditions in Narragansett Bay and its tributaries. This project extends the current water quality studies of Narragansett Bay into the urban estuaries of the Providence-Warwick-Fall River metropolitan areas. The data gained are useful to management and regulatory agencies as well as to the general public to provide information about the natural and human-induced processes that affect water quality in these urban areas.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Environmental Monitoring Component

The EMPACT monitoring component extended water quality monitoring efforts within Narragansett Bay into the urban estuaries of the metropolitan Providence and Fall River areas. Two active water quality monitoring stations were established in the receiving waters of the Field’s Point and Bucklin Point wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs): one at Bullock’s Reach in the Providence River and the other at Phillipsdale Landing in the Seekonk River. Additional stations were located for shorter periods in Mount Hope Bay off the Fall River WWTF and at Pomham Rocks, a shore-based site along the east side of the Providence River. All stations were equipped with a surface sonde at approximately 0.5 m below the surface and a bottom sonde located about 1 m off the bottom. All sondes measure depth, temperature, salinity, specific conductivity, pH, and dissolved oxygen. The Phillipsdale Landing and Bullock’s Reach station surface sondes also take measurements of chlorophyll and fluorescence, and the Bullock’s Reach bottom sonde also gives turbidity readings. Both stations currently are operational and continue to transmit data hourly via telephone line and radio transmitter to a base station computer at the Field’s Point WWTF. Frequent calibrations and postdeployment checks along with regular equipment maintenance during visits to the sites and between seasons assured the quality of the sonde monitoring data throughout the deployment periods. All calibration and postdeployment information was recorded in logs by the technician. Data from these stations can be viewed on the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) EMPACT Web Site at Exit . Data and graphs from the Bullock’s Reach and Pomham Rocks sites during 2000-2001 are available on the Web site at Exit , developed by Dr. Dana Kester of the University of Rhode Island (URI).

These monitoring stations benefit the NBC directly by allowing for continuous, real-time water quality monitoring in the Providence and Seekonk River receiving waters. Through radio telemetry and phone connections, the NBC can track consistently changes in the rivers from a remote location, saving time and money and decreasing the response time to anomalous conditions. These data also provide baseline water quality information across seasons, as well as prior to major waterway changes such as dredging.


NBC EMPACT environmental education efforts have provided the public with access to real-time water quality data about the natural and human-induced processes that affect water quality in urban areas. These educational programs have increased the knowledge of students and the general public about many aspects of coastal water ecosystems, including information on the natural resources provided by the entire watershed, the condition of Narragansett Bay, how the actions of citizens in the area impact the rivers and bays, and how to use this information to make important decisions and take steps to help protect this valuable resource.

Over the duration of the EMPACT research project, approximately 500 students, teachers, and friends of the NBC had the opportunity to participate in unique, hands-on environmental education programs supported by the EMPACT grant. Our widely used, educational NBC EMPACT Web Site also has been a success, with 5,566 visitors over 16 months of operation and an average of 80 visits per week.

NBC participation in the EMPACT grant has continued to foster new possibilities for the utilization of the water quality equipment and data beyond the project period. The NBC participated in multiagency dissolved oxygen surveys of Narragansett Bay during the summers of 2002 and 2003. NBC’s sondes were used during these nighttime field surveys to collect concurrent dissolved oxygen data from numerous locations throughout the bay. These data were used to assess dissolved oxygen and overall ecological health of Narragansett Bay during the months that typically are lower in oxygen. During 2003, data from the Bullock’s Reach buoy also were useful to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s (RIDEM) analysis of the Greenwich Bay anoxic event and fish kill. By 2004, the NBC had become a key state agency on the steering committee of the Governor’s Narragansett Bay and Watershed Planning Commission, developed in response to the fish kill to protect and enhance the bay. The sondes also play an integral role in RIDEM’s proposal for the Rhode Island Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit modifications on total nitrogen limits for Field’s Point and Bucklin Point WWTFs. The instruments will help to monitor and assess water quality changes to determine if alterations in treatment are necessary to meet applicable standards.

Data from the sondes also play an important role in the general baywide continuous water quality monitoring efforts. We have been working closely with the Narragansett Bay Group, which includes the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, URI, DEM, and Roger Williams University, to create a unified monitoring effort for Narragansett Bay where data from each fixed water quality station can be kept together in one central database. We are working together to develop the best calibration techniques and field methods for data review and editing that can be applied to all data sets.

The water quality data from NBC’s sondes have become an important resource for several agencies and universities, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Brown University, URI, and the Governor’s Commission, all of which have requested data from the sondes. RIDEM staff review the Bullock’s Reach site data twice weekly during the summer months to monitor the bay’s water quality. Recently, the DEM has been able to use the turbidity data to track time periods when dredging has occurred near the buoy. Data also are being transferred twice monthly to the URI to be posted on the Exit Web site, allowing the public to view all fixed water quality monitoring sites in the bay together. We also are collaborating with the URI to process filtered chlorophyll samples. These samples are taken twice monthly at each fixed water quality site to compare to fluorescence readings taken by the sondes.

The NBC continues to allocate funds and personnel to continue the work begun with the EMPACT Program. The EMPACT Program has taken a vital role in the assessment of and improvement in the health of Narragansett Bay and will continue to be an invaluable resource.

Environmental Research Component

In 2001, EMPACT funds helped to support Marek Kirs, a URI Ph.D. student supervised by Dr. David C. Smith of the URI Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett, RI, to develop a method to determine the source of fecal coliform bacteria (human vs. nonhuman) in Narragansett Bay. Through cooperative efforts with the NBC, the Rhode Island Sea Grant and other research grants also provided funding.

Environmental Education Component

St. Mary Academy-Bay View. In December 2001, the NBC had the opportunity to work with the environmental science classes from St. Mary Academy-Bay View. NBC staff visited Bay View classrooms, bringing NBC’s “ Beyond the Pipes” video, a profile of NBC monitoring activities, and various pieces of water quality monitoring equipment into the classroom to demonstrate methods and techniques to the students. Following the classroom visit, students joined NBC staff at the Bucklin Point facility for an educational plant tour, interactive laboratory activities, and hands-on sampling activities at the Seekonk River EMPACT site. As an additional field experience, the environmental science class was invited to join NBC staff on board the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council’s (BVTC) vessel Explorer for a morning cruise to sample the waters of the Providence and Seekonk Rivers. This experience is described in the BVTC section below.

BVTC–Blackstone River Classroom. Over the course of 2002, the NBC was able to provide several education programs supported by EMPACT funding that involved the BVTC’s vessel, Explorer. During spring 2002, NBC staff led an environmental science class from St. Mary Academy-Bay View in water quality analyses aboard the Explorer. The NBC also offered hour-long educational field trips aboard the Explorer to all schools who had participated in NBC’s annual poster contest. Six different schools from the NBC district participated in testing for various water quality parameters, observing and identifying macroinvertebrates at the river’s edge and assessing the overall health of the Blackstone River. Trips aboard the Explorer also were offered to each of the schools participating in the Woonasquatucket River Education Project as a means of enhancing and reinforcing the monitoring and data analysis aspects of the project, as well as providing the chance to get more hands-on experience in a neighboring watershed.

Two Explorer trips also were provided to Hope High School students involved in the River of Words Project. This program allows Hope High School students the opportunity to explore and develop creative writing talents centered on the concept of rivers. These hour-long trips let participants learn about river ecology and history, as well as enjoy the scenery on the banks of the river. Later in 2002, the NBC once again worked with environmental science classes from St. Mary Academy-Bay View. Students participated in the same type of ecology cruise, this time preceded by an in-class training visit from NBC staff and a school-sponsored trip to the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, RI, to give them a feel for the past, present, and future of the Blackstone River area. The class of high school juniors and seniors joined NBC staff, as well as BVTC’s ecologist, aboard the Explorer for a morning of water quality analysis on a stretch of the Blackstone River. While half of the class was aboard the Explorer assessing the water quality of the Blackstone River, the other half was learning about the history and culture surrounding the Blackstone River and its role in the industrial era of Rhode Island.

NBC EMPACT Web Site . The EMPACT Web Site gives up-to-date, historical and educational information about the water quality in Narragansett Bay. The information, in an easy-to-understand format, helps the public to make health and management decisions about the bay. The home page, located at Exit , allows the public to view current conditions, including water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, depth, and pH at each fixed water quality station from each sonde.

Office of Marine Programs (OMP) Web Site. Through EMPACT funds, the NBC was able to fund the development of the “ Discovery of Estuarine Environments” Web Page. This Web site includes a virtual tour of Narragansett Bay, interactive tools to compare the water column in the upper reaches of the bay to the water column in down-bay locations, information about environmental policy and management, history, and estuarine science. The site has received excellent reviews and is used heavily. This Web site can be accessed through the NBC EMPACT Web Site by clicking on the “Virtual Field Trip” link, then the “Educational” link.

Both the NBC EMPACT Web Site and the OMP Web Site represent a comprehensive look at water quality and biological life in Upper Narragansett Bay by providing the general public with real-time data and a wide range of information regarding water quality in Narragansett Bay.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 1 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking, EMPACT, Mount Hope Bay, Narragansett Bay, urban estuaries, water quality, educating school children, environmental monitoring, ecological impacts, real-time monitoring,, RFA, Health, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, State, Susceptibility/Sensitive Population/Genetic Susceptibility, Monitoring/Modeling, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, genetic susceptability, Ecology and Ecosystems, EPA Region, Social Science, Ecological Indicators, aquatic ecosystem, EMPACT, environmental monitoring, fishing, Naragansett Bay, ecological exposure, monitoring, community-based approach, continuous measurement, urban estuaries, ecology, estuaries, watersheds, health risks, hypoxia, public reporting, children, community water quality information system, web site development, ecological impacts, community outreach, public access, water quality, recreatoinal water, outreach and education, public health alerts, public outreach, Rhode Island (RI), Mount Hope Bay, Region 1 , public beaches, real-time monitoring, educating school children

Relevant Websites: Exit Exit Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2000 Progress Report