Bedford’s Proactive Stormwater Management Praised

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

DONT POLUTE BIGNancy Bryant from the SuAsCo [Sudbury-Assabet-Concord rivers] Watershed Community Council addressed the Selectmen at their Monday night meeting in order to praise Bedford’s 2012 adoption of a stormwater management bylaw and to further SuAsCo’s education and collaboration outreach with an emphasis on “blue waters and a green economy.”

“I’m going to talk to you tonight about stormwater—why it matters, why it’s important,” Bryant said. “I’d also like to give kudos to Bedford for some of the great work you’ve done here— and that your DPW has done—on stormwater. The River Stewardship Council presented an award to Adrienne St. John and Kristin Dowdy of the Bedford DPW last year for their good work on helping your community to pass your stormwater bylaw. That is quite an honor. ”

Bryant also commended Bedford’s River Stewardship Council representative, Ralph Hammond, for his educational outreach work in the town.

“He does a great job representing the Stewardship Council so please stay in touch with him—and with me— if you have any questions,” Bryant said.

To begin her presentation, Bryant reported that Bedford, as a water-rich community, is not only part of the Shawsheen River watershed, but is also one of 37 SuAsCo watershed communities.  Additionally, Bedford is one of eight towns with stretches along one of the three SuAsCo Rivers that has been designated as “wild and scenic,” based on the “free-flowing condition of the river and on [the area’s] outstanding scenic, recreational, wildlife, cultural, and historic values.”

[To see a map of the SuAsCo Watershed, visit:  https://suasco.org/watershed-3/suasco-towns/ ]

“Whenever it rains, whenever it snows, the precipitation that runs off the land is called stormwater,” said Bryant. “A lot of that is diverted down the drain. Where it goes from down the drain is right into the closest receiving water body—a river, a stream, a wetland—and it flows into those water bodies with little, if any, treatment except for whatever is retained in the catch basin.

“Because it’s running off land, [stormwater] can pick up any kind of materials that are on that land. That’s where stormwater becomes a pollutant because it can pick up sediments, leaves, sand, winter salt, fertilizer, herbicides, pesticides, pet waste, bacteria—any kind of elements on the land. That’s why everybody is involved in polluting stormwater and everyone’s involved in helping to clean it up,” Bryant added.

Water temperatures can also change from stormwater that has been heated as it flows over the ground before entering a lake or stream. This is also considered to be a form of contamination that affects aquatic plant and animal life.

Impervious surfaces such as rooftops and pavement—called impervious because water cannot penetrate them—cause a lot more stormwater run-off, Bryant said. Urban areas have far more run-off than rural areas with abundant natural vegetation.

“In some of these high-charged, fast storms you get a lot more flooding happening,” Bryant continued. “Also, we’re starting to see a phenomenon with a lot of stormwater on paved surfaces that we call ‘higher-highs’; when it rains, you’ll see [river flooding] like on the Shawsheen and the Concord because all that run-off water is going to rush to the closest waterway and you’ll get higher flood levels for that short duration.

“When it comes to drought periods later in the summer and early fall, we’re seeing phenomena in parts of the Sudbury River [near Hopkinton] where, in the spring time, it has plenty of water but [later] you’ll see a streambed that you can actually walk across,” Bryant added. “That’s what we call our ‘lower-lows’ because we’re not getting as much recharge into the ground—that groundwater feeds our streams and our waterways [but] it’s not available in times of drought.”

Bryant listed the ways to address the issue of manage stormwater for the best outcome:

  • Slow down the pace of the run-off
  • Reduce contamination
  • Reduce paved surfaces, narrow roadways
  • Use regulations and bylaws
  • Encourage low-impact development
  • Create rain gardens, bio-retention ponds, vegetative swales
  • Improve drainage by sweeping streets, cleaning out catch basins, collecting leaves
  • Stop illicit discharges
  • Prevent sediments
  • Mark storm drains so people know anything dumped down drains affects waterways
  • Publicize “don’t pollute” symbols that mark storm drains in town

The Selectmen asked Bryant to provide additional educational materials for the community and for the Planning office and Conservation Commission applicants.

Bryant said she is aware of towns, like Newton, that levy a general stormwater fee with a credit system that lowers fees when improvements are made, such as the installation of rain gardens or pervious pavements. Collected fees are used to address stormwater management problems. Bryant emphasized, however, that the fee system works best in communities that also make the most of educational efforts to help property owners understand the trade-offs and cost benefits.

“As low-impact development technologies become more and more sophisticated, we’re beginning to find that they are becoming less expensive to build with the natural hydrology of the land in mind, than it is to pave over things,” Bryant said.

Bryant said she would be happy to hold stormwater workshops in Bedford upon request.


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Sandra Hackman
Sandra Hackman
9 years ago

Nice work Adrienne and Kristin!

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