A murky situation with Warwick Pond


If you think your job is tough, imagine being in the shoes of someone trying to navigate the murky situation surrounding the rising water of Warwick Pond.

That job now belongs to EA Engineering Science and Tech, a Warwick company that has already done one study that concluded that there was a significant obstruction in Buckeye Brook causing the waters of Warwick Pond to rise between 12 to 18 inches higher than what can be normally expected.

On Monday night the Warwick City Council gave EA approval to conduct a second phase of preliminary work to address that issue, which has caused some flooding to homes along the pond that had historically never seen flooding in the past.

That scope of work includes coming up with a plan of attack to address the two underlying causes of the obstruction in Buckeye Brook – invasive weeds called phragmites and increased sedimentary deposits upstream. The two work like a nasty snowball effect. Phragmites can thrive when water flow slows down due to increased sediment, and the rich sediment becomes a perfect breeding ground for more phragmites, extenuating the whole problem.

EA will have to run that plan in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to ensure that they are adhering to strict regulations regarding wetlands – and it is likely, as research into phragmites removal shows, that there will need to be some sort of alteration done to fully remove the weeds from the waters of Buckeye Brook.

Such activity requires the highest level of permitting possible to obtain from DEM, and as anybody who has ever had to navigate a governmental process of any kinds knows all too well, speed is not something these processes are known for.

And while DEM has declared the rising waters and flooding situation occurring at Warwick Pond not grounds for a declaration of emergency, try telling that to the neighbors who are finding their fire pits underwater, or have to keep a tighter leash on their dogs to ensure they don’t go into the water, which has also had a problem with cytobacteria growth in the summer and can pose a health risk to humans and dogs.

Throughout this process, which people have been enduring for years now, it is easy to understand why some residents are frustrated about the rate at which things have progressed. However it also must be understood that this is a particularly difficult situation to navigate, as it involves many different parties and levels of red tape to navigate – from who is responsible to the permitting necessary to the scope of work that may be involved.

First, there is the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) that runs T.F. Green. They own a good portion of land through which the Buckeye Brook Watershed flows, so automatically when dealing with these environmental issues, you are also dealing with RIAC. RIAC has a number of agreements with DEM in regards to what they can and cannot do given their proximity to the protected wetlands.

Some have suggested RIAC should play a larger role, at least financially, in addressing the rising water issues, as they point out a sordid history of water contamination through a former landfill (now RIAC property) and pollution of the watershed through the runoff of deicing fluid they use on aircraft. RIAC would argue that they have since capped the landfill and built an expensive facility to capture deicing runoff before it reaches the brook but you can draw your own conclusion as to whether or not such measures are sufficient to make up for past ecological sins.

In conjunction with that, some maintain that RIAC is responsible for the higher levels of sediment in the first place, caused in part at least by the airport’s runway expansion, which filled in multiple acres of wetland in order to create space for a larger runway. Others have argued that this disruption has also allowed the cytobacteria growth in Warwick Pond, however one study came to the conclusion that this was not the case.

Another possible pitfall is if, through the course of remedying the problem, EA discovers that the soil underneath the brook waters is contaminated – most likely at the site of the aforementioned former landfill. This would add a whole new wrinkle as it would cost significantly more to remedy contaminated sediment than otherwise healthy sediment. We simply will not know until EA goes about their analysis and provides a report to the city.

The point is this: While some disagree that the rising water levels in Warwick Pond currently dictate an emergency situation, nobody is pretending that it is not a cause for concern. Environmental advocates all agree that the phragmites need to go, they simply disagree on how to go about that, and who should shoulder financial responsibility when it is revealed how much that process will cost.

At least something is in the works, and residents worried about their properties can rest a little easier knowing there may be a solution proposed soon.


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