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Water use and availability in the West Narragansett Bay area, coastal Rhode Island, 1995-99

July 3, 2006

During the 1999 drought in Rhode Island, belowaverage precipitation caused a drop in ground-water levels and streamflow was below long-term averages. The low water levels prompted the U. S. Geological Survey and the Rhode Island Water Resources Board to conduct a series of cooperative water-use studies. The purpose of these studies is to collect and analyze water-use and water-availability data in each drainage area in the State of Rhode Island. The West Narragansett Bay study area, which covers 118 square miles in part or all of 14 towns in coastal Rhode Island, is one of nine areas investigated as part of this effort. The study area includes the western part of Narragansett Bay and Conanicut Island, which is the town of Jamestown. The area was divided into six subbasins for the assessment of water-use data. In the calculation of hydrologic budget and water availability, the Hunt, Annaquatucket, and Pettaquamscutt River Basins were combined into one subbasin because they are hydraulically connected.

Eleven major water suppliers served customers in the study area, and they supplied an average of 19.301 million gallons per day during 1995–99. The withdrawals from the only minor supplier, which was in the town of East Greenwich in the Hunt River Basin, averaged 0.002 million gallons per day. The remaining withdrawals were estimated as 1.186 million gallons per day from self-supplied domestic, commercial, industrial, and agricultural users. Return flows from self-disposed water (individual sewage-disposal systems) and permitted discharges accounted for 5.623 million gallons per day. Most publicly disposed water (13.711 million gallons per day) was collected by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, and by the East Greenwich, Fields Point, Jamestown, Narragansett, and Scarborough wastewater-treatment facilities. This wastewater was disposed in Narragansett Bay outside of the study area.

The PART program, a computerized hydrograph-separation application, was used to determine water availability in the study area on the basis of low flows measured at a nearby index station, the Pawcatuck River at Wood River Junction, Rhode Island. Water availability was defined as the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles of the total base flow; the base flow minus the 7-day, 10-year flow; and the base flow minus the Aquatic Base Flow at the index station. The base-flow contributions per unit area of sand and gravel deposits and of till were computed for June, July, August, and September for the index station and multiplied by the areas of sand and gravel and till in the subbasins. The calculated base flows at the index station were lowest in August at the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles for total base flow and for two additional low-flow scenarios.

Because water withdrawals and use are greater during June, July, August, and September than at other times of the year, water availability was compared to water withdrawals in the subbasins for these summer months. Ratios were calculated by dividing the summer withdrawals by the water availability at the 75th, 50th, and 25th percentiles, and these percentiles of the base flow minus the two low flows for each subbasin. The closer this ratio is to one, the closer the withdrawals are to the estimated water available. These ratios allow comparisons of the use of water to the available water from one subbasin to another. The ratios were highest in July for the 50th percentile of the estimated gross yield minus the Aquatic Base Flow. The ratios ranged from 0.01 in the Providence and Seekonk subbasin to 0.38 in the Hunt-Annaquatucket-Pettaquamscutt subbasin for the 50th percentile of the gross yield minus the 7Q10 for August.

A long-term (1941–2000) water budget was calculated for the study area to assess the basin inflows and outflows. The water withdrawals and return flows used in the budget were from 1995 through 1999. Inflow was assumed to equal outflow. The total water budget was 146.29 million gallons per day for the combined Hunt-Annaquatucket-Pettaquamscutt subbasin, 48.71 million gallons per day for the Greenwich Bay subbasin, 238.98 million gallons per day for the Providence and Seekonk Rivers subbasin, and 21.32 million gallons per day for the Conanicut Island subbasin. The estimated inflows from precipitation, streamflow from upstream basins, and wastewater return flow for the entire study area were 59.3, 38.5, and 2.2 percent, respectively. The estimated outflows for the study area from evapotranspiration, streamflow, and water withdrawals were 24.9, 73.9, and 1.2 percent, respectively.

Publication Year 2006
Title Water use and availability in the West Narragansett Bay area, coastal Rhode Island, 1995-99
DOI 10.3133/sir20055256
Authors Mark T. Nimiroski, Emily C. Wild
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2005-5256
Index ID sir20055256
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Massachusetts-Rhode Island Water Science Center