Nov 06, 2020

Rhode Island Experiences Coastline Water Contamination

Drinking water wells at homes along the Rhode Island coastline are being contaminated 

water contamination

Drinking water wells at homes along the Rhode Island coastline are being contaminated by saltwater.

Since sea levels are rising and storm surges are increasing, many more wells are likely at risk.

A team of University of Rhode Island researchers is conducting a series of geophysical tests to determine the extent of this issue, reported ecoRI.

“Salt water cannot be used for crop irrigation, it can’t be consumed by people, so this is a serious problem for people in communities that depend on freshwater groundwater,” said Soni Pradhanang, associate professor in the URI Department of Geosciences and the leader of the project. “We know there are many wells in close proximity to the coast that have saline water, and many others are vulnerable. Our goal is to document how far inland the salt water may travel and how long it stays saline.”

A point of focus is concentrating their efforts along the edge of the salt ponds in Charlestown and South Kingstown, where the problem appears to be the most severe. The scientists are using ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity tests to map the depth of the saltwater/freshwater interface.


“In coastal areas, there is always salt water beneath the fresh water in the aquifer, but the question is, how deep is the freshwater lens sitting on top of the salt water,” said Panthi, who also collaborates with URI professor Thomas Boving. “We want to know the dynamics of that interface.”

The URI researchers plan to drill two deep wells this month to study the geology of the area and the chemistry of the groundwater to verify the data collected in their geophysical tests.

The first tests were conducted in summer 2019 and a second series was completed in the fall after being delayed by the pandemic. Final tests will be conducted this spring when groundwater levels are at their peak.

This research is being funded by the Rhode Island office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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