Friday, August 08, 2014

Scientists observe poor quality water killing fish

Every summer, Save The Bay conducts water quality surveys with the state’s Dissolved Oxygen Strike Force, A.K.A. the Insomniacs, named for the group’s past practice of conducting nighttime surveys  This group of scientists, mainly from Brown University, RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM), URI Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO), and Save The Bay, head out onto Upper Narragansett Bay on early-morning neap tides throughout the summer to monitor the oxygen content in the water column.  Just as for land animals in air, oxygen in the water is critical for sea animals to survive.  Oxygen concentrations below 2 milligrams per liter (termed “hypoxic”) are considered acutely dangerous to sea life, including finfish and shellfish. 

Plentiful oxygen is found in most surface water, from the great oceans to tiny creeks.  However, nutrient pollution, mostly from our own waste products, pet waste, and lawn fertilizers, can cause algae blooms that drain oxygen from the water as the algae decompose.  Additional factors, such as weak tidal flow, lack of wind, warm temperatures, and rain, can set the stage for low oxygen events, characterized by dangerously-low oxygen levels persisting across a substantial volume of water for a significant time, sometimes days or even weeks.  Low oxygen events pose a direct threat to sea life.  The Insomniacs aim to document these events and identify trends that will help us better understand the various factors that cause them, and how they may interact.

This past Tuesday morning, the Insomniacs set out to conduct one of these surveys.  As we motored up the Seekonk River in the upper reaches of the West Passage of the Bay, we began to notice dead and dying adult menhaden in the water and washed up on the shore.  Several fish were gulping for air and swimming upside down in small circles in their last moments of life.  As we made our way further up the river, we saw this sad scene over and over; beautiful fish dying before our eyes.  We were witnessing, firsthand, a fish kill.  As we began monitoring the oxygen levels in the river, it became clear that widespread low oxygen in the river was the cause.  The fish kill continued into Wednesday.  Yesterday (Thursday), I went upriver to check the status and saw no new dead or dying fish. In fact, I saw some fish flipping at the surface the way healthy menhaden normally do.  It seems as though higher tides and some brisk winds the past few days may have brought oxygen concentrations back to tolerable levels.
This trip was a reminder to me of why we do what we do at Save The Bay.  We work hard every day to improve water quality conditions in the Bay so it is healthier for people and sea life.  It’s a huge task that takes an incremental process to address all the stresses that we have imposed on the Bay in the last two hundred years.  But, too many people love the Bay to call this good enough.  We need to keep working until fish kills and other signs of unhealthy Bay conditions are things of the past.

Insomniacs Dave Murray (center) and me with our guest Dr. Courtney Schmidt from the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program.  Dave is preparing the monitoring sonde for deployment in the Upper Bay, while I try to impress Courtney with rope tricks.  Photo courtesy of Tom Borden.

An adult menhaden gulping for air in the Seekonk River this past Tuesday.  Photo courtesy of Tom Borden.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Environmental Regulations Are Not Burdensome

Our Rhode Island economy has been in a slump and we’re all looking for the cause. I have my own theories, but I won’t get us all riled up with those here. Instead, I want to focus on one flawed theory I’ve heard that pins blame on our State environmental regulations. The theory holds that environmental regulations put undue stress on small businesses. I have even heard some public servants say that environmental regulations drive small businesses out of state! 

Luckily, in a well-conceived and well-written report by our Office of Management and Budget / Office of Regulatory Reform entitled Findings of a 2013 Small Business Survey, the truth has been exposed: Small business owners DO NOT perceive environmental regulations as burdensome. 

The report detailed the results of a survey in which 709 small business leaders were asked to rank the importance of a list of “challenges” facing their businesses. The list included health insurance costs, federal regulations, state regulations, and other potential expenses or impediments. State regulations were identified second to health insurance costs, and respondents were asked to identify the regulations that were most burdensome. The report listed all State regulations that were identified by more than one respondent, and not a single environmental regulation was among them

This was surprising even to me, so I dug deeper. I suspected that perhaps the representation of businesses in the sample was skewed away from businesses most directly affected by environmental regulations, but this was not the case. In fact, the participants from the construction (125), manufacturing (113), and direct resource use/extraction (33) sectors were strongly represented in relation to the average (median) of 22 participants per sector. 

I commend the Office of Regulatory Reform for setting the record straight on this. We rely on our environmental regulations to protect our natural resources, our health, our property values, and our quality of life; and our small businesses get it. Let’s not let unsubstantiated theories threaten those benefits.

Monday, November 18, 2013

An Introduction to Tom Kutcher, Narragansett Baykeeper

Hi All,

Below is a video that Save The Bay produced as an introduction to the Narragansett Baykeeper; that's me. I'm an active member of the Waterkeeper Alliance and a full-time employee at Save The Bay. I plan to post content to this blog periodically, so please check in once in a while. Thanks for your interest in my work and in Save The Bay.

Tom K.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Thanks, and Signing Off

As of December, 2011, I am no longer working for Save The Bay. After 18 years as your Narragansett Baykeeper, I have accepted a new position as Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation at the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

Words cannot express how grateful I am for having had this opportunity to serve you as Baykeeper. My time with Save The Bay has been extraordinary in every respect. I look forward to continuing this important work from my new post.

Together, we have accomplished so much to clean up the Bay and rivers and return them to their rightful owners- the people who love them- to use safely and with peace of mind. And while we've come so far, the job is never done.

Below, I am re-posting the Providence Journal story by Richard Salit on my job change. I do this not just because the story is flattering, but because I think Rich tells the story better than I ever could.

Thanks. And please stay in touch. Love, JT


Torgan moves to Nature Conservancy

He’ll join conservancy as director of ocean and coastal conservation efforts


John Torgan had been with Save The Bay for only two years when a stormy January night
in 1996 brought him out to Point Judith in the early hours of the North Cape oil

Coast Guard crews were scrambling about in oil-smeared clothing. The governor arrived
to deal with the unfolding crisis. And the media was in a frenzy covering the
chaotic scene.

Reporters looking to interview experts turned to the 26-year-old Torgan, the lone Save The
Bay official present at that point.

“I had to do it by myself,” recalled Torgan. “The next day I was on TV around the

Ever since, Torgan has remained one of the most visible advocates for the marine
environment in Rhode Island. Only now, 18 years after joining Save The Bay, is
he stepping down from the high-profile Baykeeper post that he has held for most
of his time at the environmental organization.

“It’s the greatest job in the world for the right person,” said Torgan, 42. “But it’s
not all fun. It can be very contentious. I am Save The Bay’s front line. Being
the point of a spear can be a difficult place to be.”

But Torgan isn’t giving up on his passion for the water a
passion inspired in his youth fishing with his dad on the Bay and taking summer jobs on
charter fishing boats, in a fish-processing plant and on Block Island. On Dec.
5, he’ll begin working in Providence for the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature
Conservancy, serving as its director of ocean and coastal conservation.

“It’s a global organization, and there are amazing offices and amazing people all around
the world,” Torgan said. That stature, he said, will allow him to elevate his
pursuits “to a new level and look beyond Narragansett Bay to coastal waters and
the ocean and neighboring states and the region.”

His departure, announced last week, gave him an opportunity to reflect on the
accomplishments he took part in at Save The Bay over the years.

The North Cape oil-barge tragedy spurred Save The Bay to lead a successful drive to
toughen Rhode Island’s oil-shipping laws, which remained in effect until federal
standards caught up with them, Torgan said.

Torgan also waged a campaign to force the Brayton Point Power Station to minimize its
impact on Mount Hope Bay, resulting in a cooling system that relied not on Bay
waters but a new pair of $600-million towers. He advocated for combined
sewer-overflow improvements to reduce raw sewage from being dumped into the Bay
during heavy rains.

And he fought efforts to create a deep-water port at Quonset Point and a liquefied
natural gas (LNG) terminal in Fall River.

Despite being the Baykeeper, Torgan sought to broaden the agency’s Bay-oriented focus to
include inland rivers, the ocean and coastal waters. Since they are all
connected, he said, “you are only shoveling against the tide” when you try to
improve one without addressing the others.

That’s why he helped establish a Coastkeeper staff in Westerly to monitor the South
County coastline and why Save The Bay has been addressing storm-water runoff
that carries pollutants into local waters.

“He really embodies the mission of Save The Bay. When I think about John, I think
about this great combination of knowledge and passion for protecting
Narragansett Bay,” said Christopher “Topher” Hamblett, a longtime Save The Bay
staff member who now serves as a policy director. “He loves to share that
knowledge with staff and volunteers.”

Hamblett also credited Torgan with working well with coalitions on very contentious

At The Nature Conservancy (where he replaces Kevin Essington), Torgan expects that he
and his staff will concentrate on developing strategies and programs to prepare
for climate change, sea-level rise and proposals for renewable-energy projects.
Another priority is protecting marine life, including the shellfish-restoration
project the Conservancy administers with funds from the North Cape spill.

“What I am doing with The Nature Conservancy is an expansion of what I do with Save The
Bay,” said Torgan. “It’s a natural and graceful transition ... that allows me to
stay true to my values.… Change is good for organizations and individuals.”

In fact, he said, he has been assuring colleagues at Save The Bay and elsewhere in the
environmental community that he is not going away.

“I’m going to be here with you,” he tells them. “We are going to work together. I’m
not disappearing.”

(401) 277-7467
Save The
Bay’s baykeeper, John Torgan, shown holding a blue crab in August 2010, will
broaden his concerns beyond the waters of Narragansett Bay as a director of The
Nature Conservancy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Stormwater Videos

Yesterday, we had a good northeaster blow through Rhode Island, and it gave me an opportunity to dash out and grab some video of stormwater- the polluted runoff from paved surfaces that occurs during rainstorms- as it enters the Providence River.

While the Narragansett Bay Commission's Combined Sewer Overflow tunnel has done a great job eliminating sewer overflows and capturing and treating lots of stormwater, pollution from stormwater remains a major challenge to water quality and habitat in the Upper Bay.

Animal waste, oil and grease, plastics, litter, trash, and other pollutants wash in to the Bay. It's among the top environmental problems in the watershed.

This video is from a stormwater outfall near the Community Boating Center in Providence, at the head of Providence Harbor. Note the oily sheen and small particles washing into the River, and the goose poop near my (soaked) feet...

Here's another one, located near the old Shepard's Warehouse Building off Allen's Avenue near the Port of Providence. This one is just a stream caused by the rainstorm- no pipe involved. Lots of trash just washing right into the Bay.

Addressing stormwater pollution is challenging and complex, because there are so many sources, and no centralized control as in wastewater. Often the best solutions involve the use of vegetation, open space, and minimizing paved or impervious surfaces. Vegetated buffers and coastal marshes and wetlands help to naturally slow the flow and filter the pollution out before it reaches our waterways.

Save The Bay works closely with the various state and municipal agencies across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts to encourage low-impact development practices, habitat restoration, and stormwater education initiatives such as storm drain marking and shoreline cleanups. -JT

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Wild Turkey in Save The Bay Center Parking Lot

It's amazing to see the diversity and abundance of wildlife we have right here at the Bay Center in Providence, especially considering it was a landfill before 2005, when we opened the center. It's surrounded mostly by pavement and concrete, but a few acres of vegetation is all it takes to attract foxes, coyotes, bald eagles, osprey, falcons, and much more (not to mention all the fish and Bay creatures on the Providence River side).

Here's a youtube I made yesterday, July 6, 2011, of a wild turkey hen in our parking lot:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thanks and Credit Where Due for LNG Victory

Dear Friends,

The news of Hess/Weaver Cove LNG's withdrawal of their Fall River proposal spread quickly yesterday, and our phones rang off the hook with media calls and messages from friends and supporters. Thank you all so much for your support of Save The Bay throughout this 8 year battle.

While there are way too many individuals and organizations to thank without this blog sounding like an academy awards speech, Save The Bay wishes to recognize a few of our strongest allies:

RI Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse: You are champions of our environment and your work on this issue was outstanding! Rhode Island is so lucky to be represented by you.

Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline: Thank you for your strong support and unwavering commitment!

Congressman Patrick Kennedy, we remember your work on this and we are grateful.

Massachusetts Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown: Your constituents are proud and we are all honored by your work on this issue. Your bipartisanship and passion for the Bay are exemplary.

Senator Ted Kennedy, this outcome honors your memory. We wish you were here to see this day.

Massachusetts Congressmen Frank, McGovern, and Delahunt: Your work in Congress and on the streets of Southeastern Massachusetts was extraordinary and brilliant. Rhode Island owes you a debt of gratitude.

Governors Chafee, Patrick, and former RI Governor Carcieri: Thanks and congratulations for your work on this.

Attorneys General Kilmartin and Coakley and former RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch: Excellent work, and thanks for putting the public's interests ahead of corporate interests.

The City of Fall River: Mayor Flanagan, former Mayor Lambert, the City Council and attorneys Dianne Phillips and Steve Torres: Thanks for leading this fight and for giving Fall River a reason to be proud of its waterfront. There's a bright future ahead for your great city.

The Town Council of Bristol: Bristol was a leader in this from the beginning, with an exceptional wealth of smart, active, and engaged citizens. Yours was a shining example of what a town can do when it calls on its best people and resources.

Representative Ray Gallison: Rep Gallison, thanks for all you've done for Rhode Island's environment. Your leadership on LNG in the assembly was admirable. Thanks!

The Town of Jamestown: Jamestown was another exceptionally effective municipality at many levels in this fight. The LNG Threat Committee was top-notch. Jamestown has great leadership in the General Assembly, including Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Representative Deb Ruggiero among others, and great citizens working at the grassroots level. You know who you are! We salute you!

The City of Newport: Newport was another great ally in this fight, recognizing early on that economic development can only work here if it is consistent with our values and respects the Bay and all who enjoy it.

The Fall River Coalition for Responsible LNG siting: Joe Carvalho, Gordon Carrolton, Everett Pearson, and everyone there: You were the heart and soul of Fall River. You gave everything, and served on the front lines of this with relentless committment and energy. Fantastic job!

Save Bristol Harbor: You are an amazing and highly effective group. This outcome proves that. It was really great getting to work with you on this, and I know we will continue to work closely together into the future.

Kickemuit River Watershed Council: Ann Morrill, Linda Brunini, and the rest of you are awesome! You never let us take our eye off the ball. Thanks and congratulations!

The Congress Of Councils: Dick Lynn and the organizers of the Congress did a great job keeping this issue in the public's eye and demanding hard facts and top-level research. Yours was another great example of how citizens can affect public policy.

Jamestown Working Group: Ellen Winsor and the rest of the group, you have always been our strong allies and we appreciate your work and your support. Well-done!

The Taunton River Coalition and the Wild and Scenic Rivers folks: This is a big win for the Taunton. Thanks for your vision for that great river, and for all the help and support on this over the years.

The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association: RIMTA knows that this LNG project would have been bad for business. Thanks for taking a courageous stand against this ill-conceived project.

Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association: Thanks to Steve Medeiros and the other great anglers who stood up to fight this. You guys are the best!

I know I have overlooked many important players in this message. I cannot overstate the value of what each and every one of you contributed to this. Your support, encouragement, and action really made a difference. If it were not for you, we might be looking at a very different outcome.

It was truly a privilege to work with all of you on this! Thank you. -JT