Watershed report lauds Bristol stormwater project

Bristol Parks and Recreation Director Walter Burke points out the benefits of the stormwater runoff prevention project at the Town Beach. Bristol Parks and Recreation Director Walter Burke points out the benefits of the stormwater runoff prevention project at the Town Beach.

A project at Bristol Town Beach to capture storm water runoff and treat it through natural means before it reaches the bay has been lauded by one of the preeminent organizations responsible for monitoring water quality in Rhode Island.

The 2014 Watershed Counts Report published by the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island dedicated a full page in the report to efforts to curb bay pollution in Bristol.

The Bristol Parks and Recreation Department embarked on the stormwater management project last year to prevent runoff from flowing directly into the bay, which leads to bacteria contamination and beach closings. Paid by a taxpayers-approved Clean Water Fund bond and a DEM grant, the project includes a series of “vegetated swales” throughout the Town Beach parking lot that capture rainwater, filtering bacteria and other pollution through the flowers and shrubs planted in them — which also serve to beautify the lot.

The town and Save the Bay also partnered on a bio retention pond along the northern boundary of the park. The project transformed a large storm drain serving neighborhoods off Hope Street north of the park — which previously fed directly into the bay, bringing bacteria, salt and sand with it — into a marshy area filled with plants that filter the water and feed on the bacteria. As with the parking lot swales, the bio retention pond serves a dual purpose of cleaning the water and beautifying the park.

The effects of the project were obvious. Previously averaging 15-20 beach closures a season, the Town Beach was not shut down due to bacteria contamination at all last season.

“These efforts have improved beach water quality by allowing storm water to be naturally filtered through vegetation instead of running directly into Narragansett Bay,” the Watershed Counts report reads. “As a result of the project, there has been a significant improvement in beach water quality … The Bristol Town Beach and Sports Complex is a prime example of using new green infrastructure to curb pollutants by protecting and restoring the natural environment.”

The Watershed Counts report focused heavily on storm runoff and its negative impact on the bay. In addition to Bristol’s project, URI focused on a $6 million treatment plant in Newport and expensive efforts in Providence and Fall River, Mass., to limit storm water and sewage combined overflows.

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