Storm Water Management and Water Quality

Water Pollution contact person: David Provonsil, Town Planner 392-3800 x 121

MS4 Annual Report (posted March 16, 2020)

Storm Water Management Pollution Program: 

It's about Water Quality 
and Sources of Pollution that you never thought of before

(we all want clean water, right?)

Here is an excellent 13 minute video that explains all about it, and 
what you can do to prevent Water Pollution. Click here, then push the play button.

I welcome any comments on the Town's Stormwater Pollution Management Program.

Scroll down for Rain Garden and Rain Barrel info!

Cartoon of a man sweeping trash into a drain

It's no joke: whatever enters a storm drain flows directly into our local waters. 
The storm drain system provides no filters and no treatment. Help us keep our waters clean. 
Never dump, wash, or rake anything into the path of storm drains.

Why do I have to care about stormwater? When it rains, the water hits the ground and either soaks into the ground, or travels over the surface. As it travels, it picks up stuff like small dirt particles, oils that drip from cars, fertilizer and nutrients from the lawn, and germs (pathogens) from pet wastes. All this stuff travels with the water to wherever it ends up, which could be a nearby pond, stream, or wetland.

What are those grates on the side of the road for? When it rains, since water can't soak into the street pavement, it travels downhill into these grates, called stormwater catch basins, or a "stormdrain." The road is actually designed to be higher in the center (the "crown") than along the edge (the "gutter"), so that water gets off the road to provide a safe driving surface. The water travels in the gutter to a catch basin, then into an underground pipe system that empties either into a man-made "water quality basin" in newer developments, or directly into ponds or streams. So, please don't dump anything into these stormdrains! Also, if you see leaves clogging it up on top, please brush them off, because blocking these drains could cause flooding on the street. The public works guys actually go down into these catch basins with a shovel to clean out the sand that accumulates in the bottom, as needed.

But there are no stormdrains on my street. Not every road has stormdrains, but look a little closer--the water still goes somewhere! There may be breaks in the curbing, with pavement and maybe some rough rocks leading to a shallow ditch ("swale") along your front lawn. Don't fill in that ditch! This is where the water goes when it rains, and you want it to keep on going along, instead of backing up in your yard. You probably also have a pipe under the end of your driveway. You guessed it! It is there so the water can keep going. If this pipe gets crushed or clogged with leaves and rocks, you should fix it. Some roads don't have curbing, and in this case the water flows right off the road, ususally into a ditch, or down into the woods.

Ok, what was that "water quality basin" you were talking about? These look like small ponds, but most of the time don't actually have any water in them. You'll notice that all the catchbasins and/or swales in your neighborhood lead into these ponds. This is an effort to allow the sand (called "sediment") and pollutants to settle out of the water before it continues on into a wetland or stream, or infiltrates into the ground. This generally takes about 2 or 3 days to dry out after a rain storm. Some of these ponds just stay wet all the time. Don't dump your leaves and grass clippings in these ponds! First of all, you can compost this stuff. Second of all, these ponds were designed to be a certain size to hold a certain amount of water and if you fill them in there is less room for the water, but more importantly, these organic materials will stay wet or submerged and turn to muck, which can smother the vegetation that is supposed to help the drainage pond function properly. It also contributes nutrients to the water system.

Why are nutrients bad? Nutrients are not bad, we need them and plants need them to live. But anything in excess can be bad ("nutrient loading"). The nutrient balance is somewhat of a delicate thing. Too much, and different species take over. Basically you are providing food for algae to grow in the pond, and in the downstream water bodies. Too much algae can block sunlight from getting to the lower plants causing them to die, and decaying algae actually feed bacteria who steal oxygen from fish. I think you can get the picture of what a tangled web this is. Lawn fertilizer is the #1 contributer to scum in the pond. Check out this Lawn Care Fact Sheet and the URI's Healthy Landscapes website for healthy lawn care tips.

Have you ever wondered what a Rain Garden is? It is a simple depression you make in your lawn to hold rain water while it soaks into the ground. In this depression, you plant a garden of plants that take advantage of the periodic soaking, both taking up the water and helping it to infiltrate into the ground. This is good because it helps recharge the groundwater for your well, and it also helps clean that stormwater before it flows into a nearby stream or pond. It also takes away some of the volume of water that might be contributing to washouts somewhere else on your property, or just areas of flooding in general.

Here are some good resources with information on how to make them and what kind of plants to plant:

Just planting native species in your landscaping goes a long way. Think about it-- you don't need pesticides, or have to keep watering. Let our existing climate, rainfall, and wildlife (including existing beneficial insects) do the work for you! The RI Wild Plant Society has a good list of native RI flowering trees and shrubs (and tells you what is invasive in RI so you know what to avoid) that also tells you which plants are valuable for wildlife, if you are in to that kind of stuff. Check out the RIWPS's fact sheet "Going Native: Selecting Non-invasive Plants for Your Landscape." Use this in conjuction with the URI Cooperative Extension's Sustainable Trees and Shrubs guide to give you details on the individual plants (how big they get, what kind of conditions you can plant them in, etc.). You can also use the RI Coastal Plant Guide to pick and choose plants for your specific conditions, including a selector function to list suitable rain garden plants (just set the column 'Native Status' to '+', then set column 'Rain Garden' to '+'). This valuable list includes the local nurseries where you can buy these plants. RIWPS also has a list of nurseries where you can find Native Plants. If you have issues with DEER EATING ALL YOUR PLANTS, try selecting appropriate plants from this list: URI Green Share- Plants Least Preferred by Deer.

Here is an AWESOME booklet put out by Save the Bay. I know West Greenwich does not 'touch' the Bay, and you might think we don't affect it, but we do. Regardless, there are really great tips for your backyard in this beautiful little booklet--rain garden design, native plants, lawn care tips-- check it out!!

Bay-Friendly Backyards: Yard Care Tips that Save Time, Money, and the Bay. For more info on Save the Bay (and your backyard), click here.


To conserve water (and reduce runoff) you can install a Rain Barrel on your down spouts. Check out these upcoming events where you can purchase a rain barrel in advance: URI Spring Festival at East Farm (Mother's Day Weekend, every year), URI GreenShare Field Day (Fall weekend, every year). Or, you can make your own. Here are a few sources: URI Healthy Landscapes, Rain Barrel/Rain Garden poster by SRF and CWP.

Ok, why else are we doing all of this? West Greenwich is covered under a General Permit issued by RIDEM (as authorized from the US EPA) to discharge storm water off of roads, property, etc. through a storm drainage system (whether pipes or natural swales, etc.), which ultimately flows to various water bodies. The whole point of all this is to reduce or eliminate as much pollution as possible from contaminating water bodies. Some types of pollution are obvious, like someone pouring motor oil down the catch basin, but other types of pollution are not so obvious. The technical jargon for this is "non-point source pollution," meaning, "pollution that comes from places other than out of a pipe." This not-so-obvious pollution is the dirty bath water when the Earth takes a shower, so to speak. When it rains, (or when you water your lawn or wash your car) the water washes over different types of surfaces (lawns, parking lots, roads, forests, etc.) and picks up different types of things (fertilizers, pesticides, soaps and grime from washing your car, oils from leaking cars in a parking lot, pet waste, etc.) with it as it continues to travel on as "runoff." The cleaner the surface is to begin with, the cleaner that runoff will be. And that is what we are trying to achieve. This is the same water that we swim in, fish live in, and we drink.

What do you mean this is the water we drink? I have a well and my drinking water comes from deep in the ground. Doesn't the soil purify that water by the time it gets down to my well? Well, yes, to some extent, but it is not as perfect as you might think. And it is all connected. The ground will naturally purify most of this water if it infiltrates down into the soil, but on hard surfaces, the water will just run off along the surface and can end up in the nearest water body without having a chance to be filtered. Also, you want to be really carefull about what you do around your well. You are responsible for your own well. See URI Home*A*Syst program for Healthy Drinking Water and Water Quality ProtectionThey offer excellent workshops!

Want to know what to do with that oil based paint you want to get rid of? Or those soap scum cleaners that you stopped using because you cough too much when you use them? DO NOT DUMP them, or even leave them in the can on the side of the road in Big River (or anywhere else)!! 
TAKE THEM TO THE ECO-DEPOT!! Proper disposal of hazardous waste goes a long way towards keeping our water clean. Click here to go to the Town's Recycling Page to learn how to properly dispose of all those things you are hesitant to pour down the drain into your septic system, and that you just KNOW ARE WRONG to dump out in the woods.

If you have any concerns, or to file a complaint of illegal dumping, please contact the Town Planner, David Provonsil at 392-3800 x 121.
If you see anyone dumping off junk, tires, mattresses, paint cans, construcion debris or any other trash in the woods or on the side of the road, please report it.

Here is some information on the Town's compliance with the Stormwater Pollution requirements:
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to establish and monitor water quality standards. The standards are required to attain fishable/swimable goals. The water quality assessments are evaluated for seven designated uses; fish and wildlife habitat, drinking water, shellfish consumption, fish consumption, primary contact recreation and secondary contact recreation.
If water testing and assesment for a water body does not meet the minimum standards for all seven uses, the water body is considered 'impaired'.
There are 22 rivers and streams in West Greenwich:
-5 bodies contain bacteriea
- 1 brook contains copper
There are 19 lakes and ponds in West Greenwich:
- 1 lake contains mercury
Here is some information on surface water quality bodies in West Greenwich that are considered impaired/polluted with:
PDF icon 2018_ms4.pdf236.95 KB