Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


Within coastal areas, growing numbers of resource users, increasingly divergent resources use demands, and loss of indigenous resources combine to exert tremendous pressures on these areas. The Narrow River is a unique estuary located on the coast of southern Rhode Island. The estuary has experienced a decline in water quality over the last 20 years, primarily attributable to poor development practices and improper disposal of on-site sewage. Increasing levels of development have begun to bring about further changes in the watershed, including alteration of scenic values, conversion and loss of wildlife habitat, additional sources of pollution inputs and increasing conflict between conservation and development interests. The watershed environment environment, the unique oceanographic and biological characteristics of the estuary, and the probable sources of pollution inputs are discussed. The natural interrelationships of the estuarine system imposes specific limitations on how the watershed may be developed without damage or significant impairment of its resources. Despite several studies in the past recognizing the value and significance of the estuary and its resources, local and state management programs have been ineffective in preserving these values, or minimizing conflicts over proper approaches to development within the watershed. In 1985, a new approach to management of the watershed was initiated by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, aimed at developing a long range, comprehensive plan for the estuary. The process, Special Area Management Planning was designed to address shortcomings in other, more traditional planning and regulatory approaches, including the failure of regulatory programs to consider cumulative impacts, the lack of responsiveness of permit standards to unique circumstances, the lack of predictable policies on resource use in planning programs due to varying input by different governmental authorities, and a lack of integration of policy and management mechanisms throughout the governance system. The SAM Plan was organized with the purpose of addressing these problems through a watershed level assessment of natural conditions, providing increased specificity to pertinent regulatory programs, and integrating policies concerning resource use among the various participants. The framework of management authorities is described, and shortcomings inherent in the design of the system discussed. The majority of problems at the root of the inability to carry out stated goals within the Narrow River watershed arise from organizational problems. These are examined in the context of the statutory authorities available to municipal and state governmental bodies in Rhode Island, the exercise of those authorities, and the structure of the regulatory and planning programs. These are also examined in comparison to the resource management issues generated by the natural characteristics of the estuary. The Special Area Management Planning process is discussed and analyzed in its ability to integrate policies concerning the management of the estuary, and effectuate stated resource protection goals within the watershed. A descriptive model is presented, and the design, conduct and results of the SAM Planning process compared with its elements. Conclusions are drawn about the strength of the process, and its ability to address the problems of multijurisdictional coastal management.