Bacteria levels have often been high enough to cause beach closures at Easton’s Bay, a popular public swimming area.

Newport and Middletown, RI –In2008, NELC attorneys began two Clean Water Act lawsuits to address longstanding bacterial contamination in the waters and beaches near Newport, Rhode Island.  The suits, against the City of Newport and the adjacent town of Middletown, tackle two distinct problems: overflows from Newport’s sewer system into Newport Bay; and sewage overflows from Middletown , and stormwater discharges from Newport and Middletown , into Easton’ s Bay. This second problem has now been moved significantly closer to a solution. 

As noted by Newport resident Ted Wrobel, a plaintiff in both lawsuits, the beaches along Easton’ s Bay have been valued as swimming areas by local residents and vacationers alike since prior to the Revolutionary War. In recent decades, however, the state Department of Health has had to close these beaches on a regular basis because of high bacteria counts. 

In January, NELC attorneys joined Middletown’s attorneys in filing a consent decree in federal district court in Providence, Rhode Island, to settle the lawsuit against Middletown. The consent decree defines a clear path to ending the sewer overflows and stormwater pollution, with penalties for failing to meet deadlines. By the end of 2010, Middletown is required to analyze feasible solutions to the overflows, and to begin implementing a construction plan designed to eliminate all overflows. The town is also required to evaluate a set of storm water alternatives, and to implement one that is design ed to ensure compliance with water quality standards in Easton’ s Bay.

Meanwhile, Newport is following through on its plans to build an ultraviolet treatment system to reduce bacteria levels in the stormwater it discharges onto Easton’ s Beach. The city sought and obtained federal funding for the project, and NELC attorneys are in negotiations with the city as to the operating and monitoring standards for the treatment facility once it is built.