Narragansett Bay Commission to break ground on massive new wastewater tunnel in Pawtucket

The new 2.2 mile long wastewater tunnel under Pawtucket will address pollution problems in the Seekonk & Blackstone Rivers as well as Narragansett Bay

By: Tim Studebaker

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PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WLNE) – This Friday, the Narragansett Bay Commission will break ground on a huge tunnel under the city of Pawtucket. It’s designed to cut down on the amount of pollution that makes it into Rhode Island’s rivers during big storms.  It’s the third phase of a project called the Combined Sewer Overflow Project.

Jamie Samons is the Public Affairs Manager for the Commission.  She says the original wastewater systems in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls were built in the 1800s. She adds, “At that time, it was common to have sanitary sewage from homes and businesses and storm water that came off of streets go into the same pipe.”

This means that during big storms, dirty, polluted water would end up in area rivers.

Samons says, “In 1872, that was a great solution. In 1972, that became illegal under the federal Clean Water Act.”

The modern solution: underground tunnels that could store the combined wastewater after a storm, giving treatment facilities time to clean it.  It started with a 3-mile tunnel and some smaller pipes under Providence.

Samons says, “Those two phases have been so successful that you probably saw a couple of weeks ago, 1,900 acres of shellfishing grounds in the Providence River were opened that had been closed for 75 years.  That’s precisely why we do these projects.”

On Friday, they’ll break ground on Phase III, that new tunnel under the city of Pawtucket.

Samons says, “It’s about 2.2 miles long, about 150 feet below the ground, and it will capture the overflows that are currently going into the Seekonk River.”

The new tunnel is also expected to improve water quality in the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay.

© WLNE-TV / ABC6 2021

Categories: News, Pawtucket, Rhode Island