Historic Newport Harbor

NEWPORT, RI—As required by the terms of a 2011 settlement agreement, the City of Newport continues to work to fix its antiquated system for pumping, piping, and treating the wastewater it discharges to Rhode Island waters.

NELC attorneys filed suit against the city and its wastewater treatment contractor in 2007, seeking an end to decades of sewer overflows and beach closings. The Clean Water Act lawsuit, filed on behalf of Environment Rhode Island and four Newport residents known informally as the “Sewer Rats,” alleged that inadequate treatment of wastewater and stormwater, combined with sewage overflows occurring during and after heavy rain and snowfall, had long despoiled swimming beaches and shellfish beds in historic Newport Harbor.

Eventually, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection joined the suit as plaintiffs, and the city, the citizen plaintiffs, and the government plaintiffs reached an agreement that was entered as a judicial consent decree by U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith in August of 2011.

Under the 2011 decree, Newport has developed, and is now implementing, a system-wide plan to replace and repair leaky pipes, remove extraneous sources of water from the sewage collection system, and upgrade wastewater pumping and treatment capacity. Although full implementation of the plan will take years to complete, the city estimates that improvements projected to be in place by 2019 will reduce the volume of sewer overflows by approximately 95 percent.