Rhode Island Closes South County Shellfish Areas After Heavy Rainfall

The Rhode Island DEM has announced the temporary closure of several shellfish harvesting areas along the state’s south coast. This decision follows significant rainfall in Washington County last night, which led to concerns about bacterial contamination in local waters.

Effective immediately, the following areas are closed to shellfishing and are scheduled to reopen at 12 PM on Thursday, May 23:

  • Pt. Judith Pond (10PJ, 10PJ-N, and 10PJ-E)
  • Potter Pond (10PP)
  • Ninigret Pond (11N)
  • Quonochontaug Pond (11Q)
  • Winnapaug Pond (11W)

The closure follows an intense weather event on Wednesday night, during which over four inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period. By 8 AM today, rainfall at Westerly Airport measured 3.7 inches, with higher totals reported in the Wakefield area. Historical data indicates that rainfall exceeding three inches within 24 hours can elevate bacteria levels in the salt ponds to unsafe levels, necessitating this precautionary measure to protect public health.

Heavy stormwater runoff can carry bacterial contaminants into Rhode Island’s coastal salt ponds, prompting the shellfish closures. Monitoring data suggests that bacteria levels should return to normal, safe levels within the seven-day closure period.

DEM works in conjunction with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), the RI Coastal Resources Management Council, and industry partners to ensure that shellfish harvested from Rhode Island waters remains safe and of high quality. Ongoing diligent monitoring of shellfish harvesting waters is essential to protecting public health and enabling a swift response to changes in water quality caused by natural events, such as algae blooms or unusual weather patterns.

For more information on shellfish harvesting classifications and updates, visit the annual notice available at RIDEM – Shellfish. An interactive shellfishing map is also accessible online for further reference.




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