Trees, flowers, and driveways are helping Scituate residents keep their drinking water safe

Trees, flowers, and driveways are helping Scituate residents keep their drinking water safe

Molly Allard of the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District shows a stone driveway in a North Scituate residential home Sept. 1 during a tour of demonstation sites showcasing ideas and projects to filter runoff water into Scituate Reservoir. (Breeze photoa by Michael Smith)

SCITUATE – If you take a walk through North Scituate Village, you’ll notice the parks, homes, and walkways appear a little brighter with newly-planted trees and flower gardens.

Won’t you won’t notice, however, is how much of an impact they have in making sure your drinking water is safe.

For Betsy Dake, senior environmental planner at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Water Resources (RIDEM), and Gina DeMarco, district manager at Northern Rhode Island Conservation District (NRICD), it took such a stroll throughout North Scituate Village to help ignite an idea to preserve the quality of water flowing into Scituate Reservoir.

“I had a dream,” said Dake to more than 25 people who turned out for a tour through the village Sept. 1 to observe the various methods of filtering storm water runoff.

The dream for both Dake and DeMarco started in 1999 when NRICD received funding to develop a storm water management program in North Scituate Village.

In the last 17 years, studies were done in identifying water outflows in the village and ideas formed to lessen any detrimental impact the outflowing water may have to Scituate Reservoir.

In 2013, work began on the Village of North Scituate Low Impact Development Retrofit and Education Project, and took two years to complete finishing in the fall of 2015.

The project consisted of planting trees and gardens in strategic areas that are prone to storm water runoff.

The project was funded from RIDEM’s Section 319 Quality Assurance Program, in turn funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Multiple projects, or “demonstration sites,” of various types were created in a small area around North Scituate Village to help filter storm water. Some projects are so indiscreet, one will never know they are looking at or be near one of them.

“This is a prime time for the tour as some of the projects have matured,” said DeMarco.

The tour of more than 25 people made up of environmental experts and local residents began in the early evening from their starting point at the gazebo across from North Scituate Public Library. No sooner they started, they stopped at a sapling planted next to a drainage grate in the parking lot.

Sandra Tremblay of StormTree, a storm water management system that integrates common street trees with run off storm water collection, addressed how trees planted near drainage systems act like “tree filters” as they soak water before it outflows toward the reservoir.

These trees are usually surrounded by a fiberglass grate that you can cut, enlarging the hole as the tree grows.

Other projects throughout the cozy neighborhood include “rain gardens” planted in several residential homes.

Molly Allard of NRICD said there are seven gardens of these types planted on residential properties, and not only do they help filter storm water, but they also beautify the area.

Another method of filtering storm water is using stone driveways, but the key is using sharp-edged stone, not round stones. Allard said water is dispersed through stone driveways as compared to asphalt ones where water can collect and pool.

“We are happy that homeowners are practicing in the project,” said Allard.

Rich Blodgett of Providence Water talked about how phosphorus chemicals are the most challenging pollutant found in fresh water away from the coast, as phosphorus used in agricultural areas feeds the pollutant into watershed areas as its washed away from rains.

“Phosphorus in drinking water like Scituate Reservoir is bad,” said Blodgett. “Also, invasive plant species are a constant challenge, as well as deer, as both can contribute to polluting runoff water.”

Blodgett said Providence Water is planning to test water going in and out of such areas in the near future.

The overall goal of these projects is to improve the quality of the storm water, not re-direct it.

“It’s the future in treating storm water,” said Margherita Pryor, environmental programs specialist of U.S. EPA Region One.

Pryor said projects such as the ones the community in North Scituate have participated in will help in the long run save the town money and prevent localized flooding.

“We think this is a great project and model for the future.”

Members of various environmental groups held a tour of North Scituate Village Sept. 1 to showcase community projects to help filter runoff stormwater going into Scituate Reservoir.
Rich Blodgett of Providence Water explains how agricultural fields pollute runoff water with phospherous materials during a tour of North Scituate Village Sept. 1.