Roles of Watershed Councils in Improving Water Quality in American Heritage Rivers

November 2, 2004


ES192 Spring 2003
Roles of Watershed Councils in Improving Water Quality in American Heritage Rivers

The purpose of this class is to provide experience in cooperative problem-solving efforts to address a current environmental issue. We have found this service learning approach to be a helpful preparation for the independent research you will undertake for your senior thesis and for the kind of work many of our graduates do.

In 1999, the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) began to decentralize some of its environmental protection efforts to the watershed level. This effort has been encouraged nationally by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and has been strongly supported by Jan Reitsma (RIDEM’s Director). For background on the watershed approach, see:[bookstore/watershed approach.pdf. The basic concept is that environmental problems are better understood on the bio regional level than from artificial political boundaries. A key component of the watershed approach is the formation of local watershed councils. Seven such councils have received official designation by the Rhode Island Rivers Council: For the last three years, ES192 classes have worked as partners with these councils, and you can see some of the results at:

In addition to Rhode Island documents, for a broader perspective on the watershed approach, our initial readings will be drawn from New Strategies for America’s Watersheds, National Research Council report, National Academy Press, 1999. You can access the entire text on line at: On Tuesday, 28 January, we will discuss the Preface and Chapter 1 of the NRC report and the material in the two websites given above. Please also read Chapter 2 of the NRC report for technical background. This is almost entirely factual material, but much of it is likely to be new to you, and so you may have questions about it to ask in class on the 28th. If you wish, you may also read Chapter 3 for a comparative regional perspective on watersheds, but we will not discuss this in class.

This year we will work with two watershed councils, the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council (WRWC) ( one of the first to be designated (1999) and the Blackstone River Watershed Council, one of the two watershed councils that were designated in 2003. Both are American Heritage Rivers ( and were the first rivers to be developed for industrial waterpower in this country. Both have suffered heavily from industrial pollution and are now in recovery, with expectations of providing greenway access to restored historic sites. The Blackstone was designated as a National Heritage Corridor ( in 1986, and will have a bike path running along the shores of the old Blackstone canal from Providence to Worcester.

On the Woonasquatucket, we will focus on the river segment from the upper reach of tidewaters in the Providence River to the Lymansville Dam in North Providence. In addition to the WRWC, we will partner with the Rhode Island Office of the Conservation Law Foundation. The Centredale Manor CERLIS (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System), is at the upstream boundary of this segment, and is responsible for unacceptably high levels of dioxin in the river. The Riverside Mill Brownfield cleanup is underway (we will have an opportunity to visit this site), and a Woonasquatucket Greenway is in the planning stages. The water quality in this segment of the river is impaired by heavy metals and pathogens and is in Group 1 of the RIDEM’s 303(d) list of impaired water quality. There is also a large combined sewer overflow (CSO) in this river segment. Work is underway to devise an approach to bring the water quality into compliance with fishable/swimmable (Class B) water quality, as part of the TMDL (total daily maximum load) process. The draft 2002 303(d) list will be found at: this site contains a description of the TMDL process.

Our task will be to assist in identifying untreated (and therefore, generally, illegal) discharges to this segment of the river. We will particularly be checking for compliance with RIPDES (RI Pollution Discharge Eliminations System) Storm Water Regulations (

On Thursday, 30 January we will visit the offices of the WRWC, and will meet Jenny Pereira (Exec. Dir. of the WRWQ and Christopher D’Ovidio (the CLF RI Advocate). The white van will leave the UEL at 8:15 am sharp, and will return to campus in time for I hour classes.

On the Blackstone, we will start with a focus on the segment of the river that runs between the Ashton and the Pratt dams, although as we learn more, we might decide to broaden our scope. This relatively short river segment is under study or remediation for a rich mix of environmental problems: a) At the Peterson/Puritan Superfund site, chlorinated solvents spills in 1974 led in 1979 to the contamination and closure of the Quinnville well field that supplied the town of Lincoln (across the river) This site was placed on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1983 and remediation of groundwater is still underway. This site also contains the J M Mills Landfill, a solid/hazardous waste dump directly on the banks of the river. Field operations for proper landfill closure are scheduled to begin this spring. At:,52fa5c3lfa8f5c885256adcOO5Ob631/11 026F953383AD178525691FOO63F6E6?0i) In the document you will find a full accounting and some photographs of the site.

a) The Ashton Mill is a historic site, built in 1867 to process cotton. It is adjacent to but not part of the Peterson/Puritan Superfund and has been declared a Brownfields site. Forest City Enterprises plans to start renovations this spring to create 200 one and two bedroom apartments. A description of the project can be found at: http:/ These developers are said to have a good reputation, but it may be interesting for the class to compare their renovation plans with what would be expected in a state of the art “green building”.

b) The water in this section of the river (and above and below) is Group 1 of the RIDEM’s 303(d) list of impaired water quality, and work is underway to devise an approach to bring the water quality into compliance with fishable/swimmable (Class B) water quality. This is part of the TMDL (total daily maximum load) estimation process.

c) There are a number of wet and dry weather discharges into this segment. Not all of these are fully characterized and our class will assist in the accurate location and water quality testing of at least some of these discharges. One discharge, from the Okonite Corporation, has a RI Pollution Discharge Elimination System (RIPDES) permit. RIPDES information can be found at:

Not all of this river segment’s attributes are pollution related however. The Blackstone River Valley was designated as a National Heritage Corridor in 1986. See: http://www.nps.govfblac/home.htm. In this segment, the Blackstone River Bikeway runs along the Blackstone Canal tow path see: data.htm. The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council – – is certainly the most advanced such regional council in the state. It is an important sponsor of the Blackstone River Watershed Council (BRWC), and both councils share office space in Pawtucket, near the Slater Mill.

We will be working closely with Tammy Gilpatrick, the director of the BRWC, and with other members and associates to more precisely define our tasks. To get this process started, on Tuesday, 4 February we will meet Tammy at 8:30am at her office at 175 Main St. in Pawtucket. I recommend that you catch the #42 RIPTA bus, labeled Hope St., at 7:56 am in front of D’Angelo’s (NW corner of Thayer and Waterman). We are starting earlier than usual to allow those who have an I-hour class to catch the 10:05 bus that will bring you back to campus by 10:25. [In the unlikely event that one of you might never have had RIPTA experience, remember you will need correct change for $1.25, for both the trip out and the return.]

After our meetings with BRWC and RIDEM staff and after we have gotten some background on watershed science and water quality testing issues, we will identify the first tasks we’ll undertake and divide into teams to address them. I would like for all members of the class to get some experience in water quality testing, but anticipate that the ESci concentrators may wish to push some of the analyses further, with Dave Murray’s assistance. I also expect that we will need GIS skills, and for those who do not yet have them, and who have room in their schedules, I strongly recommend the GIS class that will be offered this semester M, W at I 2 pm (register for GE 195, section 2). Finally, we will almost certainly want to produce a web based report near the end of the class, so if you aren’t yet comfortable with Dreamweaver, you should consider registering for one of the classes that CIS offers in Feb or March see: Services/PASS/ . but be warned that these classes fill quickly.

I have not required the purchase of a text for this class, because the book that I found most useful is, in my opinion, unreasonably priced (lists at $96/copy). The book is by Thomas Ceche, “Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management and Policy”, John Wiley & Sons, 2002. 1 have purchased two copies of this book and they can be checked out for short periods from Patti or Betsy. If you would like to own the book and have it available more conveniently, you might be able to find a used copy Amazon had one listed recently at $64. Other material we will discuss in class is available on line. Because I have not required any expenditures for books, I’ll not be reluctant to expect you to show up at off campus locations that may require RIPTA travel or driving. Our first reading from Ceche will be Chapter 3, pp. 58 85. 1 will assume that you know what’s in Chapters 1 and 2, but you should check to be sure. We’ll probably discuss this material in class on 4 February. For those who would like an inexpensive but quite thorough and readable reference book on hydrology, I recommend Hydrology and the River Environment, by Malcolm Newson, 1994, Oxford Press, available used from Amazon for $11. Written by a Brit, it has a UK flavor (but is also therefore unusually literate).

The roles of students and of the instructor and the teaching assistants in classes of this type are quite different from classes taught in Brown’s traditional lecture/discussion format. I will work with you as a team member attending my own share of meetings and participating in the assembly and analysis of information. Alexa Engelman and Katherine Fisher (for the water quality testing) will be TAs for the class. I will provide initial contacts and will draw on my experience in RI and what I have learned from working with a watershed council for the past five years. I will facilitate class discussion, but very rarely will I lecture. I will assist the class to work toward consensus on next steps and priorities, but will feel free to make decisions and make assignments when a consensus is elusive or when volunteer allocation of responsibility is not equitable or is leaving essential tasks undone. Of course, I also have the responsibility for evaluation.

This is not the type of class where excellence is measured by examination. Rather I will make my evaluation based on the level and the quality of effort each student invests, and the quality of each work product. Because the nature of the research problems will vary widely, so also will the method of reporting likely be different for each team. Sometimes these products will be websites, written reports, or maps, sometimes Powerpoint presentations. Also, we will want to make a report to our partners. Until we know more of what we have to say, we should not settle on the format for this report. We can predict however that the probable audience will be the WRWC and the BRWC, and some staff of Water Resources and the Sustainable Watersheds Offices of RIDEM. I will ask each student for a self evaluation and for an evaluation of other members of her/his group. It should go without saying that in a cooperative effort of this sort, it is important that everyone show up on time for every class and other assigned meetings. I will weigh roughly equally your level of effort (including thoughtful participation in class discussion) and the quality of your work product.

My office hours are posted on my office door a week or so in advance, and I can always arrange other times if those hours aren’t convenient for you. I’m most easily contacted by e mail –

Harold Ward
23 January 2003

School: Brown University
Professor: Harold Ward
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