Aquaculture & Fisheries

Fecal Coliform Bacteria Impairs Point Judith Pond

DEM announces establishment of conditional shellfish closure areas

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The two areas in yellow have been reclassified for shellfish harvesting. The upper reaches of Point Judith Pond have been closed to shellfish harvesting since the 1940s because of elevated bacteria levels. (DEM)

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has decided, 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 Feb. 1.

Last year 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’s 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 annually, with an average of six times a year.

“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 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.”

DEM officials recently 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.

The upper reaches of Point Judith Pond have been closed to shellfish harvesting since the 1940s because of 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, according to DEM.

However, in recent years some approved areas have shown declining water quality during wet weather, necessitating the new conditional closure areas.

Stormwater runoff is a significant source of fecal coliform bacteria in the Saugatucket River, the major tributary draining into Point Judith Pond. DEM said 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.

Here is a look at the two areas of Point Judith Pond that will be impacted:

Growing Area 10-8: All waters of Point Judith Pond and Wheatfield Cove north of a line from the light pole 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 in Smelt Brook Cove to the DEM range marker 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 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 No. 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.

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.

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