URI Watershed Watch: RI water quality changed in 2020 during drought, pandemic

Various bodies of water react differently to a lack of rain, leading to improving water quality for some bodies of water, and worsening water quality for others.

By: Tim Studebaker

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) – The extreme drought last year impacted water quality for Rhode Island’s waterways, according to findings by URI’s Watershed Watch program.

Program Director Elizabeth Herron says, “We had sites that, in 20 years of monitoring, had never gone dry before that did go dry last year, which is really telling us something.”

According to Herron, while water quality got worse for some bodies of water as the drought wore on, others actually improved.

Herron says, “That’s one of the reasons it’s so great that we have these 400 people who are going out every week or every two weeks to get us this data because it is just so highly variable.”

She says some bodies of water rely on rain water during storms to flush out contaminants, so they got worse during that dry stretch.  But, storm runoff can also be harmful for other bodies of water, so those ones got better when the rain didn’t fall.

Herron says, “These tend to be sites that either the ground water that supports them is collecting contaminants from septic systems or other sources.”

The pandemic may have also played a role as people took to more outdoor activities.  Herron says program volunteers noticed a lot more boats out on the water last year, which stir up sediment.

Herron says, “Water clarity from sediment in some of these busier lakes probably is a little bit lower.”

She says they don’t yet know the water clarity’s impact on animals and plants that live in the water, and they’re also looking forward to seeing what the end of the drought has meant for water quality once their volunteers head back out to the water in May.

If you’d like to get involved, URI’s Watershed Watch program is actively looking for volunteers.  Click here for more: https://web.uri.edu/watershedwatch/

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Categories: News, Rhode Island