Following a summer when the waters of Warwick Pond turned green, those living on the pond and concerned citizens have come together to take action to protect city water resources.
In August, the Department of Health (HEALTH) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued an advisory, urging residents to avoid contact with Warwick Pond water due to cyanobacteria. Better known as blue-green algae, cyanobacteria can produce toxins, although after testing by both departments no toxins were found in Warwick Pond.
The advisory was lifted Nov. 1, but that hasn’t stopped resident concerns. The Friends of Warwick Ponds, established in the aftermath of the bloom, aims to bring together community, state, municipal and Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) leaders to combat issues of pollution not only in Warwick Pond, but all water resources throughout the city.
The self proclaimed “action group” has 24 “action members” with an estimated 200 supporters on an outgoing email list.
Philip D’Ercole, who has lived on the pond for 13 years and was one of the loudest voices at public meetings concerning Warwick Pond, acts as facilitator of the group, which has no singular authoritative power. The group was created by a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Councilman Joseph Solomon.
Although the group has met four times since November, their subcommittees, which work on singular projects, such as meetings with various groups, and specific pollution initiatives, meet more frequently and report back to the whole group.
After the closing of the pond, there was initial backlash from the community blaming RIAC construction projects for increased nutrients that led to the bloom, and subsequent inquiry to residents’ own part in the pollution.
D’Ercole said Friends of Warwick Ponds is no longer trying to play the “blame game,” but rather wants to “take a positive outlook to creating solutions by bringing people together to see change.”
Richard Corrente, who is a Democratic candidate for mayor, is also part of the group. He is concerned with the perception that Warwick waters are polluted and that people considering moving into the city may opt out, while residents may think of leaving. He said he talked with an unnamed appraiser who told him property values surrounding the pond could decrease by 20 percent with polluted waters and increase by the same amount for “pristine waters.”
In the coming year, Friends of Warwick Ponds wants to ensure that when summer comes, even if the water in Warwick Pond isn’t yet pristine, it is at least safe for use all season long.
“What we have here is a group with passion and a desire to see real change,” D’Ercole said. “This is actually right in our backyard. This affects our daily lives. It’s a safety and health concern for us all.”
Marybeth and Bill DeNuccio, as well as Chet Foster, all “action” members of Friends of Warwick Ponds, noted that although the group’s initial focus is on cleaning their own pond, they have city and statewide ambitions.
Bill DeNuccio, who has lived on the pond for more than 30 years with his parents and then bought the same property 18 years ago, said he has never seen the water so unclear. Not only has the water quality been affected, but he argues the wildlife has drastically changed in just the last two years.
“This is the biggest inland body of water in Warwick. If it can be destroyed like this, what about the others? It won’t take as much to see their destruction,” he said. “I want to see solutions. No more arguing, just people doing the right thing.”
His wife, Marybeth, said because all of these bodies of water are connected, flow into each other and then out into the bay, the pollution of Warwick Pond is a statewide concern.
“This is a widespread issue and the more agencies we can get involved, the more progress we will see.”
The group’s dedication to all of Warwick’s waterways is evident in their name, Foster pointed out. Rather than just friends of Warwick pond, the group made the distinction of Warwick Ponds.
He said, “We want this information and resources available to all. We are looking beyond just our own problem, but ones we could be seeing in the future. We have a willingness to share this information.”
D’Ercole warned that the group as well as the agencies they partner with need to establish a sustainable plan of action, or else the pond could be “right back” to the conditions seen this summer a few years down the road.
Already the group has met with Mayor Scott Avedisian and plans to submit a budgetary letter requesting the city to allocate $150,000 to the group for a “thorough cleanup” of Warwick Pond, while also requesting that budget see similar increases for environmental initiatives citywide.
Avedisian said the group has a “good perspective” of everything they need to do to bring Warwick Pond back to health, but warned Friends of Warwick Ponds that this will be a long process.
The city already meets with DEM regularly, and the action group plans to sit down with the department early in February.
“When we look at the budget we can see if any of their line items can be funded,” Avedisian said. “I think we need to dovetail the city’s efforts with theirs to see what they want accomplished in the next year.”
Friends of Warwick Ponds also met with Kelly Fredericks, RIAC CEO and president, but not long after the meeting he announced he would be leaving the position.
“We aren’t going to back away from this, we won’t stop and that’s what they aren’t used to,” D’Ercole said. “These agencies are supposed to protect not just the environment, but our health and safety, too. I don’t feel protected. We are going to stay focused like a laser with this and make sure we are heard.”