Blackstone River is healthier, watershed advocates report

Blackstone River is healthier, watershed advocates report

CUMBERLAND – The Blackstone Valley’s most recognizable waterway showed significant strides toward better health in 2017.

The Blackstone River Coalition unveiled its 2017 Water Quality Report Card at is annual summit and volunteer appreciation breakfast last Saturday at the Cumberland Public Library.

The event brought together members of the coalition, including the Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Blackstone River Watershed Association, and the Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, along with 88 community volunteers from the various groups.

“This is our 15th year doing monitoring of the Blackstone watershed,” said Susan Thomas, coordinator of the Blackstone River Coalition Water Quality Monitoring program. “Between the nutrients, oxygen, temperature, conductivity, and turbidity, these are the key things we have identified to monitor in order to assess the health of the Blackstone.”

Cleaner waterways mean a healthier environment for humans and wildlife, say advocates.

Data is compiled and tracked, and presented in the form of a report card. Highlights from the 2017 report card include:

• Headwater coldwater fisheries: Three of eight streams rated fair for temperature; zero rated poor; seven streams improved from 2016; 50 percent of sites were excellent/fair for dissolved oxygen; 50 percent of sites rated fair/poor for dissolved oxygen.

• Nutrients in headwaters: 22 sites improved from 2016.

• Midreach cold water fisheries: 100 percent of sites rated good/fair for temperature; sites were split evenly between good, fair and poor (33 percent each) for oxygen saturation.

• Main stem nutrient levels: Seven of nine sites received a “poor” rating for 2017; two sites improved from 2016.

• RI cold water fisheries: All sites rated good or fair for temperature; all but one rated excellent for dissolved oxygen; all but one rated excellent or good for oxygen saturation. 

“One of the things that makes our program so robust is that we have so many sites throughout the entire watershed, not just the main stem of the river,” said Thomas.

Last Saturday’s summit served as a forum to explore pathways to protect and conserve the Blackstone River Watershed, which spans from central Massachusetts through northern Rhode Island into downtown Pawtucket, and also presented an opportunity to provide education and training to the volunteers who provide the crucial data that the organization relies on in its conservation efforts.

The coalition’s 88 volunteers are responsible for monitoring 75 pre-determined sites along the watershed, including its headwaters, tributaries, and the main branch of the Blackstone River. The volunteers collect and report data on several parameters from their assigned sites including aesthetics, water temperature, air temperature, dissolved oxygen, turbidity, conductivity, nitrate, and orthophosphate.

Each parameter the Blackstone River Coalition measures is important to water quality in the Blackstone River and its tributaries, say representatives for the Blackstone River Coalition.

In addition to the presentation of the annual report card, the summit also featured several guest speakers, who added context to the results.

Field coordinators for the headwaters, mid-reach, and Rhode Island monitoring teams, Tom Boland and Mike Sperry, presented a crash course in water monitoring. The seminar covered the specific parameters that each volunteer monitors, and how each parameter affects water quality in the river system.

Stefanie Covino, coordinator of the Shaping the Future of Your Community Program at the Massachusetts Audubon Society, discussed climate change in the Blackstone River Watershed and what it means for water quality monitoring.

Also speaking at the event was BRC Coordinator Peter Coffin, who addressed the political aspects of watershed conservation. He discussed advances in sewage treatment technologies, the politics of ecology, the effect of activism and political pressure, and methods to make existing dams more ecologically friendly.

At the conclusion of the event, volunteers were given their monitoring kits for the 2018 season, as well as a small gift to aid their conservation efforts – tick spray.