Providence Forced to Invest in Stormwater System

By ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Mayor Jorge Elorza recently signed an agreement with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to bring the city’s stormwater management system into compliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit.

During the next seven years, the city will significantly increase investment in stormwater management and infrastructure, according to terms of the March 6 agreement. These improvements will result in cleaner waterways, reduced neighborhood flooding and will prevent the buildup of sediment in Waterplace Park, according to state and local officials.

“By making these critical investments in our city systems, we are addressing an overlooked structural issue, protecting our waterways, and planning for the long term,” Elorza said.

The agreement ensures Providence will make needed investments in stormwater management and infrastructure that will bring the city into compliance with the requirements of the Clean Water Act, DEM director Janet Coit said.

“Rhode Islanders have made important advances in cleaning up Narragansett Bay and our local waters; yet more attention is needed to address pollutants from stormwater sources that contribute to beach closures, shellfish harvesting restrictions, and degrade the quality of our waters for marine life and people,” she said. “Our economy and communities depend on the protection of these precious resources. Stormwater runoff from urbanized areas is a significant source of water pollution.”

The agreement was signed following the city having been issued a DEM notice of violation for being out of compliance with five provisions of its stormwater permit. Normally, such action would trigger enforcement action, including fines of up to $25,000 per day per violation.

However, after the collaborative efforts between the city and DEM, a consent agreement was developed as an alternative.

As part of the agreement, the city will be taking key steps to improve documentation and management of its stormwater system. Specific measures include more frequent street sweeping and cleaning of the city’s 12,000 catch basins; increased public engagement around stormwater pollution prevention; and implementation of “green” infrastructure projects in Roger Williams Park.

The city also agreed to implement three supplemental environmental projects: educational signage for green infrastructure projects; the Irving Avenue Seekonk River Revitalization project; and restoration of Riverside Park.

During the past few years, Providence has increased street sweeping and catch-basin cleaning, and recently removed 728 tons of catch-basin debris, according to city officials.