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High Bacteria Levels Prompts DEM to Close Bristol Harbor to Shellfishing

The Bristol Wastewater Treatment Facility has had problems with elevated flows and high bacteria levels since the drenching rain earlier this week.

The State Department of Environmental Management has closed Bristol Harbor and areas surrounding Hog Island to shellfishing due to high bacteria levels caused by heavy rains, high flows and overflows from various wastewater pumping stations.

The drenching rain that brought upwards of five inches of rain to Rhode Island earlier this week overtaxed the wastewater treatment system operated by the Bristol Water Pollution Control Department, the DEM said in a statement.

The closure affects all waters north and east of a line from the southern tip of Poppasquash Point in Bristol to Southwest Point on Hog Island and from Southwest Point on Hog Island to the southwestern extremity of Arnold Point in Portsmouth, where a DEM range marker has been established.

The DEM said the overflows were at "various pump stations throughout the collection system" and the rains caused elevated bacteria levels measured in the Bristol Wastewater Treatment Facility. The facility operator "has been working to identify and remove storm water and sump pump connections to the sanitary sewer system."

The closure is an emergency closure, the DEM said, and town officials notified the DEM of problems with high flows and elevated bacteria levels on Tuesday. The DEM estimates that the four days of elevated flow and bacteria from the Bristol plant "have exceeded the boundary of the established closed safety zone in Bristol Harbor and thus the need for [the] emergency closure," the DEM said. "The DEM will be collecting water samples for bacteria quality, and will make a determination as to when the area can be re-opened upon review of the sample results."

All aquaculturists in areas where emergency shellfish closures have been enacted will be allowed access to their leases to conduct necessary maintenance/retrieval of their equipment. All other activities on the aquaculture lease, including but not limited to the harvest of shellfish, will remain prohibited until the water quality is acceptable to allow for harvest. Aquaculturists that intend to conduct maintenance and/or retrieval of their equipment under this emergency authorization are required to notify Dave Beutel, CRMC's aquaculture coordinator by leaving a message at 783-3370.

DEM maintains a 24-hour shellfishing hotline with recorded updated information on shellfish closure areas.  That number is 222-2900.

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