Letter: Spotlighting stormwater run-off issues

Posted 11/30/21

To the editor:

Described in “Barrington formally acquires two rights of way” (EBRI November 19th), the town recently acquired two rights-of-way (ROWs) in the Bowden Avenue neighborhood …

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Letter: Spotlighting stormwater run-off issues


To the editor:

Described in “Barrington formally acquires two rights of way” (EBRI November 19th), the town recently acquired two rights-of-way (ROWs) in the Bowden Avenue neighborhood to enable stormwater run-off drainage “best management practices” (BMPs) there. Those improvements should spotlight stormwater run-off issues across town.

More specifically, transportation stormwater run-off presents a huge problem. In "We must honor commitment to cut transportation pollution" (EBRI November 19th), two State legislators focused on transportation greenhouse gas pollution, calling for Rhode Island to implement the Transportation Climate Initiative. While they looked up, transportation stormwater run-off pollution commands looking down. 

Transportation stormwater run-off’s environmental impacts derive from content and flow. Highway, road, and street drainage contains contaminants from petroleum products (asphalt, gasoline, motor oils, lubricants) and other chemical compounds and nutrients (including nitrogen and phosphorous in lawn fertilizers) not found in precipitation. Its flow volume and velocity can cause erosion, surface flooding, and ground saturation, leading to knock-on problems.

Transportation drainage also affects our community’s global warming resilience. As precipitation events increase in frequency, intensity, and duration, it can worsen those adverse impacts.

Run-off pollution and resilience impairment issues underlie Save the Bay’s report Comprehensive Plan to Improve Water Quality in Hundred Acre Cove, issued August 16. Addressing the age-old problem of water pollution damaging the cove, it outlines actions to remedy culprit wastewater and stormwater run-off pollution from roadway contamination, bacteria, and nutrient sources. 

That report begs focusing on how the town and RIDOT manage transportation stormwater run-off pollution and resilience issues, especially since contamination of Hundred Acre Cove has been well known for decades.

For example, it states the town is mapping outfalls from its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4), the RIDEM-regulated system of collection drains and related infrastructure conveying stormwater run-off from town streets freshwater and saltwater resources. Its MS4, however, includes only the town’s stormwater sewers and outfalls. Shouldn’t it study all drainages across town, not just its MS4 outfalls?  How can the town obtain annual RIDEM permits to operate its MS4, or comply with them, if it can’t identify what its MS4 includes?

The report also states RIDOT “is planning to develop a stormwater control plan for state roads in the Runnins River and Hundred Acre Cove watersheds… scheduled to be started in 2022 and completed by December 2023.” Is that RIDOT doublespeak or simply kicking the can down the road? Why hasn’t RIDOT previously focused on transportation drainage pollution and resilience issues? Has RIDOT ignored those issues elsewhere around the state and town? Doesn’t the need for control measures admit RIDOT’s MS4 fails to adequately protect our environment?

Specific to Barrington, since RIDOT maintains state roads, and RIDOT and town MS4s are intertwined, other questions arise. Do RIDOT and the town have town-wide plans to address transportation drainage pollution and resilience? Are their plans coordinated? Beyond expressing glittering generalities and commissioning studies, are they committed to resolving the transportation stormwater run-off problems that imperil us, our properties, and our future? 

Robert Coyne


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