Catching ‘first flush’ before it hits the bay
The first flush is usually the worst.
But thanks to an $180,000 grant announced yesterday, that initial surge of water from a major rainstorm would be naturally filtrated before flowing into Warwick and Brushneck Coves.
And it is hoped the project planned for the divider running 2,000 feet down the middle of Suburban Parkway will result in fewer closings of the city beach at Oakland Beach.
Warwick was one of 11 municipalities in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to win a grant funded through the EPA’s Southeast New England Program for Coastal Watershed Restoration. The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) announced the grants, totaling $815,000 and secured through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. The Warwick grant was the largest of those announced Monday.
“It’s important to design it for that first flush,” Wenley Ferguson, restoration coordinator for Save the Bay, said of the project.
The plan calls for excavating the parkway median strip to create a series of bio-retention basins and vegetated swales that would hold the runoff during a downpour.
“A lot can occur in a vegetated area,” Wenley said. With runoff flowing to both Warwick and Brushneck Coves, she called the project in an ideal location to enhance water quality.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said the project is the outgrowth of work started about a year ago involving the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program based at URI, the Oakland Beach Association and the city. He said the group looked at several means of improving water quality, including moving the seawall parking lot so as to create a vegetated area between it and the wall. He credited the association with making the project a priority and in keeping with the master plan, endorsing the allocation of $17,500 in Community Development Block Grant funding for the project design.
That action went a long way in distinguishing Warwick’s grant application, said Thomas Borden of the Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. He said there were 30 grant applications totaling $3.5 million for the available funds. Warwick was ahead of the curve with a plan, a design and specifications ready for bidding. Borden expects the project will be completed within a year.
In addition to the CDBG funding going into the project, Avedisian said the city’s Department of Public Works would play a role in excavating for the swales.
City Engineer Eric Earls likened the project to a canary in the coalmine. He noted that unlike many areas where it is difficult to measure impacts on water quality, the beach at Oakland Beach is regularly monitored by DEM and the Health Department for swimming, and hence the effectiveness of the project can be monitored to a degree. Beach closures, whether at Oakland Beach or elsewhere, occur most frequently following a major rain event.
“I appreciate everyone who worked on it,” Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis said. She believes it will be a vast improvement for the neighborhood. As for the possibility that it could mean fewer beach closures, she said, “that’s our goal.”
In a release, Judith Swift, chair of the Estuary Programs Management Committee, said the program is “pleased to award grants to municipalities and nonprofit organizations who are taking concrete steps to help protect and restore the water quality in the Narragansett Bay watershed.” She also applauded the leadership of Reed, who spearheaded this program to focus on the coastal watersheds of southern New England.
Borden said the Warwick project would use the soil to remove nutrients and pathogens before they reach the bay.
“This is a great project,” he said, “that will help protect Narragansett Bay.”
Another round of funding from EPA’s Southeast New England Program is on track for 2016. On Dec. 9, 2015, EPA issued a press release seeking initial proposals for a grant program of up to $7 million over the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years to fund projects that will improve coastal water quality and habitat. The request for initial proposals seeks projects that implement innovative restoration and protection approaches, provide strategic collaboration and regional impact, integrate habitat and water quality improvement, and focus on connectivity and ecosystem services and functions. Initial applications are due Jan. 22, 2016.