Is Bailey Brook Watershed At Risk Once Again?
In this opinion piece, writer Kara DiCamillo argues that new commercial development at Bailey Brook Watershed could add to the number of chemicals affecting Newport's drinking water.
About two years ago, the Aquidneck Island Watershed Council was formed out of concern for the quality of Easton’s Bay and Bailey Brook. The council currently promotes public awareness of our watersheds here on Aquidneck Island. Not only are they sources of drinking water, but they also provide scenic beauty and recreational use.
It was after the council's formation that we learned, despite the beauty of our reservoir across from Easton’s Beach, that Newport has one of the most troubled water systems in the state. In all, the system comprises 20 square miles that extend to Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Little Compton. While only one square mile is actually located in Newport, it’s the square mile that our city draws from for our drinking water.
According to the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission’s website, “The highly urbanized Bailey Brook Watershed has been ranked as having the highest water quality risk in the network of watersheds that the Newport Water Division draws from to service the Island’s community drinking water needs.”
As we know, what happens on Aquidneck Island affects all of us and Bailey Brook, which is already nearly a quarter paved over, is at risk once again. The land that is under the microscope is the so-called Skater Island off of West Main Road in Middletown. A proposal has been submitted to Middletown Town Council for re-zoning, which would allow for the development of a commercial center and potentially a “big box store.”
While these types of developments would no doubt provide jobs on the island, the location includes the headwaters of Bailey Brook. As James Marshall, a Newport resident, recently cited in an opinion piece, “A recent study conducted through Salve Regina University, under the supervision of Dr. Jameson Chace, confirmed significant concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous and bacteria at several locations along the brook, most of it attributable to residential developments.”
So what does that mean if a commercial center is built? A number of chemicals are already used to purify our drinking water here in Newport. We receive notices in the mail educating us that “high levels of this” and “high levels of that” were found. What we really need, as Mr. Marshall stated, is open space and/or farming.
The Middletown Town Council will be voting in the next few weeks on whether or not to allow commercial development for this property. Our water system is already stressed, so why develop a site that is already in question as to whether it can handle the storm runoff? This water system is an island system – our system and our environment. The communities on this island need to work together to bring attention to the potential threats to our natural sources. This is where town lines don’t matter.