Water Quality

The Blackstone River with a mill in the background
A view of the Blackstone River with Ashton Mill in the background.

Embarking on a journey along the Blackstone River unveils a tale of resilience and rejuvenation. Over a century of industrial pollution has left its mark, yet the tide has turned, thanks to rigorous clean water standards imposed federally from the 1970s onwards. The local cleanup efforts, valiant as they are, grapple with lingering industrial waste, notably the toxic sediment lurking behind dams. A broader strategy at the federal level is essential, harmonizing with localized land use decisions to ensure lasting restoration.

The Blackstone River's journey towards restoration has indeed been remarkable yet caution still reigns. While it beckons for canoeing and kayaking adventures, swimming remains off-limits, and fish consumption is not advised.

Non-point source pollution which stems from diverse origins, (such as reckless excavation practices, uncontrolled stormwater runoff, and certain landscaping habits) is the major culprit. This runoff carries nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which, when they reach the river, can trigger harmful algal blooms that disrupt the ecosystem. Both surface and groundwater fall prey to its effects, revealing the broader problem.

Adding to these challenges, when there's a big rainstorm, municipal wastewater treatment facilities are frequently overwhelmed. To prevent backups, they release untreated sewage into the river, worsening the pollution problem. This is harmful to plants, animal, and humans that come in contact with the river.

The challenge of pathogen impairment also surfaces, with troubling statistics weaving a narrative of caution. Pathogen impairment simply means there is an unsafe level of pathogens, such as various bacteria in the water. Throughout the Blackstone River watershed, segments grappling with pathogen impairment account for 56.6% of assessed river miles—a telling reminder of the work yet to be done. These concerns extend even to riverbanks, with indicator bacteria concentrations exceeding prescribed standards.

In essence, the Blackstone River's waters hold a story of resurgence, shaped by diligent federal mandates and localized initiatives. As we chart the course forward, let's ensure that our actions echo the collective ambition to transform the Blackstone River into not just a revitalized waterway, but a thriving ecosystem that embraces us all.

Last updated: March 6, 2024

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