BPC plans to use collaborative tools, such as agency agreements; best management practices, such as recommended watershed policies or monitoring procedures; as well as data gathering and environmental reporting to build public consensus and produce watershed priorities for each municipality along the Woonasquatucket River, in a way that can be recorded in a formal WWP that’s enforceable by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). BPC, while working to improve the local wetland program through framework agreements, has developed a plan to addresses different scales of operation that apply to watershed planning. Utilizing different planning and enforcement vehicles between towns, states, and the federal government, BPC is seeking interagency cooperation in a WWP to address public priorities regarding the watershed's future use. BPC’s involvement in an integrated watershed plan is to improve government and private sector effectiveness and efficiency through identification of gaps in wetland protection programs and by finding opportunities to make wetlands programs work better. BPC’s environmental mission is to identify and protect critical wetlands, remediate water quality, and harness flood waters. In keeping with this mission, BPC proposes a means of both either restoring, or removing dams within the historic dam network of the Woonasquatucket River as a primary component of a watershed plan. Restoring dams will substantially reduce flood hazards for residents downstream. Restoring dams can also include installing hydropower capacity to generate funds. Further, using computers to control a restored dam’s water level in a systematic fashion becomes an effective flood control strategy. Removing dams can be a way to construct new wetlands or floodplains over a drained pond, which as a strategy increases water quality, and adds habitat to the river corridor without sacrificing anyone’s land.
BPC is acting on multiple levels: as a grassroots and local organization, we seek to improve the environmental quality at our Stillwater Mill site, to enhance the overall water quality of the river, and to promote healthy ecosystems, sustainable habitats, and abundant wildlife. At the town level, we seek to acquire, monitor, and protect environmentally important lands as a land trust operation and to work with other land trusts to develop a high standard of conservation within the town. At the state level, BPC supports using a watershed planning approach on Woonasquatucket River in developing a combined WWP and DRS. BPC will work with the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) throughout the watershed planning process; DEM must approve any wetland modifications of the existing river system that come with: restoring dams, or removing dams, altering the shape of the current pond network, and engineering; reshaping; or moving wetlands. Local senators on the state level need to formally support adopting a watershed planning approach on the Woonasquatucket River to formalize a WWP and in doing so make it a state government priority to complete the processing of a federally approved watershed plan for the Woonasquatucket River Watershed within a specific timeframe.
With the state and towns’ cooperation, BPC seeks to produce a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the state agencies, the municipalities and the ACOE so that the watershed plan can be implemented. At the federal level, BPC seeks the cooperation, commitment and support by several agencies, including: the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It’s important to contact senators and representatives at the federal level because politicians can designate the WRP and DRS as a priority or mandate for the federal agencies, such as the ACOE, to accomplish. Put another way, federal representatives can require the ACOE to complete the WRP and DRS that BPC is proposing.
BPC evaluates the best and highest possible use of the mill and dam site at Stillwater. At BPC, we have determined that the land’s ultimate use must be for the public’s benefit, and we have developed a model of land-use priorities and budget planning procedures. BPC is processing the paperwork to protect the land at Stillwater under a conservation easement. BPC will become a land trust, and manage lands with a focus on environmental priorities. As for the dam at Stillwater, unfortunately, BPC has been underfunded (dam restoration, and dam removal projects aren’t readily funded in RI). The general sentiment regarding dam maintenance and dam ownership in Rhode Island is that the state and towns place full liability on the dam owners, but neither do they fund any dam projects. This is becoming a problem, because some of the dams on the Woonasquatucket River are over a hundred years old and not all of them have been maintained properly. Therefore, these old, ill-kept dams can pose a substantial flood risk to their neighbors and the community. The towns, and the state, by refusing to make dams a public priority, have avoided accepting responsibility for a risk that many people unavoidably share associated with aging infrastructure. On the opposite side, there are benefits that the state could gain from in properly permitted dams. Once properly restored, dams can obtain FERC permits for hydropower, in conjunction with the obtaining ACOE permits regarding dam reconstruction. Therefore, the DRS can also become a renewable energy hydropower project that produces an income to offset maintenance costs.
We propose that the dam and mill site at Stillwater and other historic, distressed dam sites along the Woonasquatucket River, like Stillwater, go through a uniform assessment and receive project approval for either a dam restoration or a dam removal. Obtaining the necessary permits for a dam project is called making the project shovel-ready. This is basically a green light for construction to begin at any time in regards to a dam project. By working with the ACOE on developing a DRS and WWP, dam owners on the Woonasquatucket River can elect to receive assistance in the form of either dam restoration or dam removal. The ACOE has done projects like this on waterways in the past, but in Rhode Island it is uncommon. The ACOE can choose to take on a project when funds and time become available; when taking on a project the ACOE will act quickly and adopt a pre-existing, shovel-ready project. What the proper permitting and an ACOE commitment mean is that when the ACOE is ready, they can elect take on a very large, very intensive river modification project. There are conditions in order to work with the ACOE; for example, the city of Providence receives project funds for flood control but the city of Providence must also comply with ACOE regulations to maintain projects a certain way. Because of this, getting the ACOE into a RI river-wide redevelopment project in the form of the WWP and DRS means that the State of RI, the city of Providence, and the six other municipalities need to adopt specific procedures that incorporate ACOE priorities regarding a proper maintenance and monitoring strategy.
Upon completion of a WWP and DRS, BPC wants to use the permitting procedure as an example for renovating other dams along Rhode Island rivers and promote creating a comprehensive statewide watershed plan. There are numerous benefits directly applicable to the public. By first asking land owners, concerned citizens, agencies and local governments what watershed priorities each have, we can find the best possible use for each town in regard to their portion of the river and its corresponding watershed, and provide the State of Rhode Island with a procedure for a developing a statewide watershed management plan. A watershed plan takes into account all current uses of the river and evaluates all the desired uses for the river as well. Determining watershed priorities depends on the input of public stakeholders; watershed priorities determine what it is the river means to us: what it is were trying to protect, encourage, or avoid, in terms of the ultimate future of the river. Watershed plans change over time as the public changes their opinions and as some of the primary goals are met, which may lead to new goals. An initial watershed plan will take into account what people want to do with the river, and then set goals to maintain those priorities. For example, if people want fishable or swimmable water, we need to look at where on the river that is possible, and set goals to make the water either cleaner, or more accessible, depending on the circumstances of the situation.
Breakwater Preservation Conservancy plays a certain role within the development of the watershed plan. As a nonprofit completing the preliminary elements a WWP and DRS, BPC is focused on gathering a network for the permitting involved with various government agencies. Ideally, BPC contributes environmental consulting, permitting procedures, and research that culminate in a public consensus building effort needed to implement the WWP and DRS. BPC emphasizes education, leading the public to learn about the environment, as well as land owners’ rights and responsibilities. The immediate goals are to gather government agency regulators, and government stakeholders, to agree on the terms and processes of developing a watershed plan. BPC aims to produce an environmental outline to present to the public through an outreach campaign aimed at recording watershed priorities and concerns. Then, through consensus building, we propose a watershed plan that states clear goals, has an administrative process outline, an implementation strategy, and a timeline.