KINGSTON - The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP) is currently in the process of updating its Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP), a document which serves as a guideline for local and state governments and organizations involved with the preservation of the Narragansett Bay watershed area. NBEP will seek public comment from August 29 to September 17 in order that the Plan is as responsive to local concerns as possible.
The original CCMP was created in the 1990s through the federal Clean Water Act, and the update is intended to revise and restructure the current document in order that more timely issues, such as climate change, are properly addressed.
“Since the Plan was originally done, a lot of things have changed, such as conditions and management techniques,” said Richard Ribb, Director of NBEP. “It is long overdue. A lot of collaborative work has been going on, so there were a lot of people interested in participating and making sure that we covered the things that needed to be covered.”
A number of problems which have concerned Narragansett Bay and watershed scientists over the years are identified in the CCMP, as well as recommended courses of action to help mitigate those issues. Concerns include stormwater and nutrient impacts, invasive species, and the protection of fragile and important habitats.
“We face some really big problems that didn’t come overnight, and there is a list in the Plan of those priorities,” said Ribb. “There are a lot of issues surrounding storm water, for example, that we need to do a better job to address.”
“We hope that, through the actions of the Plan, it emphasizes a greater effort to work together, pool resources, and focus on target issues,” he added.
Ribb also noted that the greater awareness and understanding of the impacts of climate change today has significantly altered the conversation about environmental conservation.
“This update has a section regarding climate change, a factor that overlays every other environmental issue,” said Ribb. “It has an impact on water quality and habitats, for example, and all kinds of things, so climate change is a new wrinkle to environmental management.”
“We don’t understand all of the impacts of climate change right now, and as that evolves, we need to find ways to better measure the changes,” he added.
The CCMP addresses current issues of governance and funding among environmental research and monitoring programs.
The Narragansett Bay Estuarine area stretches over a 2,000 square-mile area from Little Narragansett Bay in Westerly northward to Worcester and eastward as far as Taunton, encompassing all of Rhode Island and parts of Massachusetts with 13 separate watershed areas.
“The estuarine watersheds this plan addresses are complex and vital ecosystems,” read the Plan’s Introduction. “In managing our natural resources we need to recognize that when we change one part of the system, it can have effects, intended and unintended, positive and negative, on other parts.”
“That is one of the reasons that it is critical we have a good scientific understanding of how these ecosystems work,” he added.
NBEP consulted numerous of state and local environmental groups in order to better flesh our available resources and consult as many pertinent voices as possible. Ribb stressed that the CCMP is meant to be a fluid document and, as new scientific data and changing viewpoints regarding environmental preservation and governance come to light, its pages will adapt to such trends.
“A lot of people were involved who did workshops, went through dozens and dozens of state and local plans, and we drew from them the recommendations that made sense to draw into this Plan,” said Ribb. “The idea is for the Plan to be a continually updated document and not just another thing that sits on a shelf.”
“We hope to update it every five years, working with the stakeholder community to look at it and change, add or deemphasize things,” he added. “In between those revisions, we will do a report on the conditions and status of the environment as well, which helps.”
Ribb is hopeful that the public comment window will produce fresh and meaningful ideas and concerns, at a grassroots level, regarding the preservation of Narragansett Bay’s many watershed areas.
“The Idea is to get people engaged so that they can capture the most important things we’ve been working on,” said Ribb. “I am already hearing from citizens and their comments, so we are hoping to get that kind of dialogue as the plan evolves.”
For more information about the public comment portion of the CCMP update, visit www.nbep.org  or contact Richard Ribb at 401-874-6233.