ECORI NEWS Roundup: Beach closures, oysters, heat pumps, oh my!

R.I. Sees Highest Number of Beach Closures in Nearly 20 Years

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has seen the highest number of beach closures in nearly two decades this year.

According to data from the state Department of Health’s beach monitoring program, freshwater and saltwater beaches around the state have been closed for a combined 284 days since Memorial Day, the highest number of closures recorded since 2006.


Beaches are closed by order of DOH when they test positive for elevated levels of enterococci bacteria; anything higher than the sample standard of 60 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 milliliters of water is closed until the tests produce a clean result again.

The bacteria represent a small but significant health risk to swimmers. Swimming in contaminated water can cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that can cause symptoms such as vomiting, headaches, and fever. It can also result in ear, eye, and throat infections, and in more serious cases, salmonella.

Historically, especially in Narragansett Bay, beach water contamination was closely tied to rainfall and stormwater runoff. Simply put, if a great amount of rain fell on Rhode Island during the summer it would often lead to beach closures. Stormwater runoff, from roadways, parking lots, and other non-porous surfaces, wash contaminated water into the bay and other water bodies, elevating the level of enterococci.

State’s Aquaculture Industry Future Looks Bright

WAKEFIELD, R.I. – Two years out from the COVID pandemic, Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry continues to set all-time high sales records.

Earlier this summer, the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), which oversees aquaculture permitting for RI, released its 2022 report on the state of aquaculture, and the future it predicts looks bright.

The total value of all aquaculture products in Rhode Island was $8.2 million, an 11% increase over the previous year. Oyster seed sales accounted for $796,403, a 25% increase compared to 2021, while sugar kelp sales totaled $14,500.

The total number of aquaculture farms in Rhode Island increased by one last year, bringing the total to 84. Those farms leased a combined total of 373.99 acres of state waters. The number of jobs on aquaculture farms increased by 9.7%, bringing the total number of jobs to 246.

The report’s author, CRMC aquaculture coordinator Ben Goetsch, wrote that aquaculture farmers have seen sustained demand for their products since the end of the pandemic shutdowns.

“Many farmers remain optimistic that the trend in increased demand for RI aquaculture products, both locally and throughout the country, will continue into 2023 and beyond,” Goetsch wrote.

Heat Pump Incentive Program Gets $25M Boost

PROVIDENCE — Good news for folks seeking to electrify their homes and adopt heat pumps this winter: a new incentive program to tackle home heating emissions.

The program, dubbed Clean Heat RI by the Office of Energy Resources (OER), provides an additional $25 million to the state’s existing suite of heat pump incentives to spur early adoption of the climate-friendly technology in homes and businesses around the state. At least 40% of the funds, which are allocated from federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars, are earmarked for incentives for underserved communities in compliance with federal guidelines set by the federal Department of Energy.

Gov. Dan McKee and OER originally announced the program in July 2022, and the agency spent all of August collecting public comment on the program.

As proposed, $23.6 million will be eligible in three categories: residential incentives for all homeowners currently using fossil fuel; enhanced incentives toward low-income and disadvantaged customers; and, a community incentive available for small businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and public buildings.

The rest of the money, about $1.3 million, will be allocated for workforce development programs for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. •

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