Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Community Planning (MCP)


Community Planning and Area Development

First Advisor

Dennis C. Muniak


The ground water in Rhode Island is plentiful and generally high quality. There have been no major conflicts thus far over allocation of ground water, though aquifer yields are limited. There have been instances of pollution from waste disposal practices such as landfills, septic systems and seepage pits, and some aquifers have been rendered unpotable because of dense overlying urban development. The real extent of pollution is unknown, as there is no comprehensive ground water quality monitoring program. Quality is monitored only where contamination sources are known and major, or where ground water is currently used for public water supply. There is no regulation of ground water withdrawals (quantity).

Management of the ground water in Rhode Island is incomplete and fragmented among various levels of government, agencies and departments. The federal government has funded ground water research and programs geared to specific pollution problems (such as hazardous waste). At the state level, the Water Resources Board has concentrated on developing major public water supplies and depends primarily on surface water. The Statewide Planning Program has studied instances of ground water pollution and has proposed new legislation to manage the ground water resource, but these proposals have not been adopted by the legislature. The Department of Health limits itself to regulation of public drinking water systems and prefers a narrow interpretation of its responsibilities to protect future supplies. The Department of Environmental Management operates several programs which protect ground water quality and attempts to adopt a comprehensive perspective but is limited by specific authorizing legislation to specific sources of pollution (such as septic systems and landfills). At the local level, only one town has attempted to zone far aquifer protection. Other towns fear that the courts will not support such regulation based on the existing enabling legislation.

Ground water management requires a comprehensive perspective, however. Sources of contamination are many, and polluted aquifers may never cleanse themselves. Land use decisions made without regard to ground water may effectively eliminate the resource, imposing costs on future generations for expensive treatment plants or limited development opportunities. Management is possible, but must follow from a knowledge of the resource and available options. To this end, this paper defines the policy and program choices in Rhode Island, and includes some consideration of implementation.



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