Federal funds en route for Buckeye Brook study

01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Providence Journal Staff Writer

-- The state Department of Environmental Management has reserved $50,000 in federal money to perform the first comprehensive study of water quality in Buckeye Brook and the aquatic life that depends on it.<

The brook, which links Narragansett Bay to Warwick Lake and Spring Green Pond, is one of the few waterways in the state that supports an annual herring run.

It is also under stress from oxygen-depleting chemicals in the aircraft deicer used at nearby T.F. Green Airport to ensure that planes can take off safely in wet, freezing weather. Neighbors have often complained to the DEM about foul odors in their neighborhoods as glycol-based deicers break down in the watershed.

The brook may also have other water-quality issues because it traverses an area that was once a private landfill and has since been incorporated into the airport campus.

Buckeye Brook's annual spring run of blueback herring and alewives all but collapsed this year.

Experts said local pollution was not the likely cause because the same phenomenon occurred in other New England waterways that support herring runs. They said the run may have been depleted by commercial fishing off shore, or by an abundance of such predators as striped bass and cormorants.

Steve Insana, president of the Buckeye Brook Watershed Council, took a DEM staffer on a walking tour of the brook last week after Insana learned of the federal grant award.

"This is big news for us," Insana said, "that they would even want to write this grant."

Gail Mastrati, spokeswoman for the DEM, said the study will assess any "biodiversity impairments" in and around the brook. The agency may do the work with its own scientists or hire an outside firm, she said.

The grant, originating with the Environmental Protection Agency, is expected to "identify the sources of impairment and to collect physical, chemical and biological data to determine the most significant stresses on the system."

Mastrati estimated the study could take as long as two years.

Mayor Scott Avedisian said the study would help city planners work toward a "better conservation of Buckeye Brook" in the future.

Hopefully the results of the study will give us the benchmark we need to ensure that glycol and other airport issues don't degrade the quality of the water there," he said.