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Stormwater has no place in rivers

Now a grant aims to help 7 towns protect against stormwater pollution

The new River Front Park is dedicated on the Millers River in the center of Orange on . 07/09/07 afternoon completing phase one of the project. Phase two is the construction of a boat house and phase three will add a gazebo and docks.
File photo by Paul Franz

The new River Front Park is dedicated on the Millers River in the center of Orange on . 07/09/07 afternoon completing phase one of the project. Phase two is the construction of a boat house and phase three will add a gazebo and docks. File photo by Paul Franz

There’s plenty to be learned from a visit to Orange’s Riverfront Park.

Apart from a place for the community to come together along the Millers River, it’s also a showcase of rain barrels, porous pavement, rain gardens, bio-retention swales, and other “low-impact development approaches” to reduce stormwater runoff that can add to pollution of waterways.

Now, seven Franklin County towns, including Orange, will be taking a look at some of those innovative approaches to reducing stormwater pollution, with help from Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Millers River Watershed Association.

Working with a state $35,000 federal grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the eastern Millers watershed towns — Montague, Northfield, Erving, Warwick, Wendell, Orange and New Salem — will consider ways of incorporating those approaches and tweaking their bylaws to prevent pollution from stormwater finding its way into the river.

A field trip to the Orange waterfront park, built in 2006 with a variety of the anti-pollution approaches, is planned as one of the activities of the two-year grant program, to show town planners simple, relatively inexpensive techniques that can be incorporated into development, redevelopment and public works projects.

State water protection laws require developers to take these kinds of low-impact development approaches into account when planning their projects, but a lot of local planning boards don’t realize how much to press for them to be incorporated, said Kimberly Noake MacPhee, the COG’s natural resources program manager.

In presenting workshops for town planners, other town officials and the public, the hope is not only to familiarize them with these approaches, but also to review town bylaws for stormwater pollution controls that can be incorporated into project plans. The planners also want to look at barriers in town regulations — such as requirements for wide road widths — that discourage pollution controls from being considered.

As a result of road salt and sand, as well as other natural materials that run into streams, MacPhee said, there are contaminants in the Millers and its tributaries, including phosphorous, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, invasive aquatic plants and fecal coliform, she said.

Yet “the overall water quality is very good,” said Patricia Smith, the COG’s senior land-use planner. “We want to continue working toward maintaining that. There are pollutants in the water, and we don’t want to be adding to them.”

Instead of building the large kinds of retention basins that some developers add to collect stormwater from parking lots and pipe it offsite to surface streams, MacPhee said, alternative approaches like rainwater gardens or curbless parking lots can not only be more aesthetically pleasing, but also keep the water on the site as groundwater instead.

“How can we capture the water, infiltrate it back in the ground, recharge our aquifers, provide base load for our streams and rivers, and clean the water at same time” by allowing it to filter through the soil? “Water is a resource, not a waste byproduct.”

Some of the same techniques are being incorporated in a state-funded project in which the COG is working with the Town of Greenfield to add a landscaped tree belt to the Chapman Street parking lot as a way of preventing runoff into an underwater brook that feeds the Green River. The same grant also will extend the small rain garden behind the Greenfield Public Library, with a permeable surface walkway, to capture more runoff there.

One of the impediments getting people to consider low-impact approaches like permeable pavement — with gravel pockets filling in spaces around octagonal bricks, for example — is the perception they’re not practical in our climate, because of the maintenance involved, MacPhee said.

But especially in an era when intense storms are becoming more common, she said, the alternative techniques can help avoid the kinds of extreme flooding situations where large volumes of water overload the capacity of drainage pipes and culverts. Providing multiple places for stormwater to drain back into the soil, she said, can be much cheaper than trying to replace culverts or bridges going over them.

Ultimately, though, it will be up to each of the seven towns to look at the structural and non-structural approaches that will be discussed by the COG.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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