- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) - Federal and state officials launched a program on Wednesday to protect and restore the coastal watersheds of southeast New England.

Municipalities and nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts will receive a total of $2 million in the first year of the new federal initiative.

Curt Spalding, the administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency New England region, said the Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Restoration Program puts significant funding behind innovative ways to solve environmental challenges the area faces. The first problem it’s tackling is nutrient pollution, such as fertilizer in storm runoff and wastewater from treatment facilities, which can cause excessive growth of algae.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who led the effort to acquire the funding, was at Easton’s Beach in Newport Wednesday with Spalding, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and other officials to celebrate the launching.

The Rhode Island Democrat says it will bring stakeholders in Rhode Island and Massachusetts together to protect shared resources. The program seeks to restore New England’s waterways, protect ecosystems and help the region prepare for climate change.

“We have an obligation to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of our watershed throughout the southern coast of New England,” Reed said. “We will do that. But we need the resources to do that, and the cooperation to do that.”

Spalding said the timing is right because the problems are worsening due to climate change, he said, adding that algae also grows faster in warmer waters.

At the Newport event, six groups received a total of about $730,000 for projects to stem nutrient pollution and ensure clean water, including the University of Rhode Island, Mass Audubon, Save The Bay, the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District, the city of Newport and the town of West Warwick.

Save The Bay is studying how ribbed mussels remove nutrient pollution in Narragansett Bay. Executive director Jonathan Stone said he could not do the study without the $50,000 grant.

Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said protecting the state’s water bodies is critical to the state’s economy, which is why the new program will affect everyone in Rhode Island regardless of whether they live on the coast.


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