A USGS employee collecting water quality data along the Blackstone River. Photo courtesy of USGS.

The RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) partners with the US Geological Survey (USGS) to monitor over a dozen water quality parameters at five stations on Rhode Island’s largest three rivers: the Blackstone, Pawtuxet, and Pawcatuck. This program measures temperature, conductivity (an indicator for the amount of dissolved minerals such as salt, calcium, and magnesium), pH, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), bacteria, and metals (such as iron, copper, manganese, and zinc). Some measurements are taken on a monthly basis, such as bacteria and nutrients, while others are taken once every two to three months, such as metals. Data from these stations support the assessment of water quality and allow for trend analysis over time.

Supplementing this program, Narragansett Bay Commission’s (NBC) river water quality monitoring program also generates data on the Blackstone and Pawtuxet Rivers. NBC samples the rivers as part of a larger program that monitors the estuarine waters of the Providence and Seekonk Rivers—rivers that originate over the state line in Massachusetts—and the freshwater tributaries that flow into this area. Due to funding limitations in 2014 from RIDEM and USGS, data collection was eliminated for three winter months in the Pawcatuck River.

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