Newport and Middletown, R.I. — NELC’s Clean Water Act lawsuits against the municipalities of Newport and Middletown, R.I., are beginning to bring results. The suits, fi led in 2008 on behalf of Environment Rhode Island and four long-time local residents, seek to end decades of illegal sewage overflows and storm water discharges that have repeatedly closed two popular public beaches on Easton’s Bay and shellfish beds in Newport Harbor.

The chief culprit has been the high bacteria counts that often accompany the illegal discharges. Because the bacteria pose a threat to human health, the Rhode Island Department of Public Health closes the beaches to swimming once bacteria levels in the water rise above health screening levels.

However, real improvement may be on the horizon. City of Newport officials are working with consulting engineers to design a system to treat the city’s storm water before it is released from a holding pond into the bay. Currently, they intend to use an ultraviolet treatment system to kill the great majority of the bacteria prior to release.

“While we believe that Newport may also need to address how the storm water becomes contaminated in the first place,” noted NELC’s Theresa Labriola, “treatment is a good first step.”

After receiving NELC’s notice of intent to bring suit, the Town of Middletown made a preliminary commitment of several million dollars to address its own storm water issues, and commissioned a study to evaluate alternatives. Middletown is also preparing a proposal to address its sewer system overflows–one source of bacterial contamination in Newport’s storm water holding pond.

NELC is continuing to meet with city, state, and federal officials to negotiate a lasting solution to sewage overflows into Newport Harbor.