LETTER: Stormwater Committee Member Urges Council to Adopt New Ordinance

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To the Editor,

On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, during its regularly scheduled meeting, the Town Council will hold a Public Hearing and Vote on a proposed Stormwater Management and Erosion Control Ordinance. As a member of the Watertown Stormwater Advisory Committee (SAC) that originally proposed this Ordinance, I submit that the adoption of this Ordinance is the right move for Watertown at this time for two reasons.

First of all, the Town of Watertown, in accordance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for discharging stormwater into the Charles River from its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4), is required to have ordinances governing (1) erosion control during construction projects, (2) post-construction management of stormwater on newly developed and redeveloped sites, and (3) illicit discharges to the storm drainage system. The Town enacted an ordinance prohibiting illicit discharges to the storm drainage system in 2011. The proposed Ordinance will address the first two.

The proposed Ordinance merely formalizes a practice that the DPW has been informally pursuing for some time now. The formality of this Ordinance will provide clarity, certainty, and enforceability of stormwater management and erosion control requirements. It will ensure fairness and equity in application and review by the DPW. And it attempts to minimize undo process and bureaucracy with a Simplified Permit, for those whose projects qualify.

Second, and more importantly, stormwater containing phosphorus (and the algae blooms that result from it) is the largest remaining source of pollution to the Charles River, one of Watertown’s most critical natural resources. Last year, the EPA gave the lower Charles River – the section from the Watertown Dam to the Boston Harbor – a grade of “B+”, up from “D,” which recognized the great strides that have been made over the last two decades to increase the Charles River’s water quality. However, that same grade also sent the message that the work is not quite done yet.

At this time, the best way that Watertown can reduce its pollution of the Charles River is by reducing the amount of stormwater and pollutants that are sent directly to the River without filtration or cleaning. With the proposed Ordinance, Watertown will require increased use of “Green Infrastructure” and other Best Management Practices (BMPs) to keep all stormwater on-site where it falls (to the maximum extent achievable) and let it soak into the ground. The ground filters and cleans the stormwater naturally, rather than sending it along impervious surfaces, which make up an estimated 49 percent of Watertown – like roofs and driveways, streets and parking lots – where it collects pollutants like oils, salts, fertilizer, bacteria, sediment, and trash. The stormwater, with those pollutants in tow, then runs into catch basins that drain under Watertown streets and discharge directly into the River.

Watertown has received two stormwater-related grants recently; one will help the DPW to develop a database to track Green Infrastructure projects and their effects on stormwater, and one will provide for a pilot project to include Green Infrastructure improvements on a street that is already scheduled for reconstruction. These grants are only the beginning, though; steps taken by the Town to reduce its stormwater pollution must also be matched with steps taken by each and every resident, business, and landowner – including those required by the proposed Ordinance. Together, Watertown can minimize its pollution of the Charles River, an essential element of this town’s “green infrastructure.”

Please stand with me in support of this proposed Stormwater Management and Erosion Control Ordinance at the Public Hearing and Vote on Tuesday, February 23, 2016.


Sincerely Yours,
David Stokes
Member, Watertown Stormwater Advisory Committee

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