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Green Solutions for Stormwater Pollution

By Senior Director of Policy Meg Kerr

Public opinion polls find that clean water is a top environmental priority for most Americans. We appreciate and enjoy water for swimming, fishing, boating and paddling. We expect clean and safe drinking water supplies.

The Clean Water Act, first passed in 1972, has been successful in cleaning up the country’s waterways. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs implemented in partnership with the states have removed sewage and industrial effluents that once polluted waterways. Throughout the country, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and coastal waters are much cleaner. Here in Rhode Island, we have seen this transformation. Old timers talk about the Blackstone River running blue and red with dye from the local mills. Today, you can see kayaks and fishermen on the river.

Nationally the remaining challenge to water quality is nonpoint source (NPS) pollution – the oil, metals, sediment and other pollutants that are washed from the landscape when it rains. In Rhode Island, storm water runoff (or NPS) is a significant source of pollution, particularly in urbanized areas.

Over the past decades, we have relied on “grey” man-made infrastructure to collect and treat stormwater runoff. Concrete catch basins collect water from roads, pipes carry the runoff to nearby streams. The Narragansett Bay Commission’s rate payers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a huge underground tunnel to collect combined wastewater and stormwater and send it to the wastewater treatment plant. These investments have made a difference in our local environment.

Throughout the country, communities are also embracing “green” nature-based approaches to reducing stormwater runoff. “Green” infrastructure mimics nature by capturing stormwater so it can either be reused or seep into the ground where it falls, rather than flowing into underground sewer and storm pipes. Methods include rain gardens, pervious pavement, planted swales and storage containers such as cisterns and rain barrels. Green-infrastructure features can help reduce stress on water systems and provide good local jobs. As we face increasingly intense rain events and heat, green infrastructure also provides climate resilience, making the communities where they’re installed healthier and more beautiful.

Audubon is one of the leading members of Rhode Island’s Green Infrastructure Coalition (GIC), which was formed in 2014 to promote green stormwater solutions in Rhode Island’s urban communities. The GIC focuses its work in the Providence metro area and on Aquidneck Island. Over 40 participating organizations work together on changing state policy and implementing green infrastructure projects to showcase their beauty and potential. The coalition also develops signage and other communications strategies. Projects have been implemented at Providence College, in Roger Williams Park and along the Woonasquatucket River at Riverside Park in Providence. These projects are used to educate citizens and decision makers about the beauty and importance of green infrastructure. Audubon’s planned green infrastructure installations at the Caratunk Wildlife Refuge will soon be part of the coalition showcase.

You can learn more about the Green Infrastructure Coalition on the web and on Facebook.

Meg Kerr
Senior Director of Policy, Audubon Society of Rhode Island
12 Sanderson Road, Smithfield, RI 02917
401-949-5454 ex. 3003

Audubon Staff installing a rain garden in 2010 at the Lonsdale Elementary School

Audubon has long supported green, nature-based solutions to reduce stormwater runoff. Shown above, Audubon staff installing a rain garden in 2010 at the Lonsdale Elementary School in Lincoln - and the resulting burst of blooms.

Report • Volume 51 • No. 2 • Spring 2017


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