Snapshots

Week 7

As our Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP) comes to a close, our team has been taking the time to reflect upon our experiences both as individuals and as a team. Over the course of our project, we learned how to work together effectively and use every member’s skillset to its fullest extent. At the beginning of this project, none of us had any idea what the negative impacts of stormwater pollution on the environment are, what a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) is, or why complying with the MS4 permit is so challenging for municipalities. After these past seven weeks of extensive research, we have seen firsthand both the impacts of stormwater runoff and the challenges posed to municipalities trying to reduce their stormwater runoff pollution through proper compliance with the MS4 permit.

Oil on a road in Upton, MA. Stormwater runoff will wash this oil into the MS4 . It will eventually be discharged into surface waterbodies, where it has the potential to kill fish and other aquatic animals.

Oil on a road in Upton, MA. Stormwater runoff will wash this oil into Upton’s MS4 . It will eventually be discharged into surface waterbodies, where it has the potential to kill fish and other aquatic animals.

Even through our efforts with this project and through the efforts of the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC), compliance with the upcoming MS4 permit will be difficult for Massachusetts municipalities. While organizations like the USEPA and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) aim to protect human health and the environment, the demands these organizations present to municipalities to create a healthier environment can be taxing, as seen by permits such as the MS4 permit. However, while immediate compliance may be difficult or even infeasible, actions can always be taken in order to move one step forward towards a healthier environment.

Through our work on this project, we had the privilege of attending CMRSWC meetings and seeing the results that can occur when municipalities work together. We were incredibly impressed with the progress that the CMRSWC has made, and even more impressed when we realized the impacts of its efforts. Municipalities in the CMRSWC can not only better comply with the MS4 permit by utilizing the CMRSWC’s resources, but also have more funds left in their budgets so that their towns can better fund other important services, such as a strong school system and fire department.

Unfortunately, we realize that as our IQP experience comes to an end, our team’s regular studies will resume with the upcoming semester and we will not have time to keep up with our efforts through this project. However, we hope that our efforts have shown the importance of stormwater management and will inspire future researchers to continue working with MassDEP and Massachusetts municipalities to move their environmental efforts forward and protect the environment.

Finally, we would like to thank our sponsor, the MassDEP, for providing us guidance on our project, sharing their experience with stormwater management, and giving valuable opinions on our project deliverables. We would also like to thank our advisors, Professors Corey Dehner and Melissa Belz, who gave a lot of advice and critiques to our project. Without their guidance, our team could not have accomplished as much as we did, and would not have been able to make as much of a contribution to stormwater management and municipalities’ compliance with the MS4 permit.

A discussion of  our findings with MassDEP officials, our advisors, and the other IQP team working with MassDEP.

A discussion of our findings with MassDEP officials, our advisors, and the other IQP team working with MassDEP.

Week 4

In the past few weeks, the schedule of our project has been changed quite a bit. One of the reasons is that the GPS unit was accidentally uncharged twice. Luckily, this Monday and Tuesday, November 20th and 21st, out team finally got a chance to map in Leicester.

In the early morning, we met with Patrick, who has been an employee of the highway department in Leicester for several years. After he trained us to use the GPS unit, we followed him and mapped the catch basins. The operational steps of mapping are straightforward. Patrick told us to start mapping at the beginning of the road in the direction that the address number increases. Then, we located the GPS above the catch basin and saved the information through wi-fi. We recorded the accuracy of the GPS, the street name, longitude and latitude of the location of the catch basin, etc.

When we were mapping, we observed there are two types of catch basins. One has a hollow metal cover and the other has a stone cover. Pictures are shown below. Patrick told us that the one with the stone cover is better in a big storm because it has greater entrance to accept greater flow rate of the stormwater runoff.

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When we were mapping the catch basins, one of the obstacles was the great amount of the fall leaves. These piles accumulate beside the roads and cover the catch basins. Thus, it was hard to find the location of some catch basins by eye. However, Patrick is very familiar with the contractual situation in Leicester. He remembers every location of the catch basins. He can locate the exact position of a catch basin which is hiding under about 2-feet-depth piles of fall leaves. Our team was very impressed by his professional skills.

Cold weather is one of other obstacles. It was 40°F on Tuesday. Both Hannah and I were shaking badly while walking along the street. Additionally, low temperature also impacted the GPS unit working slowly sometimes. When the device was “frozen”, it takes much more time to process the data. When that happened, Hannah and I were shaking worse. Finally, around noon, the GPS unit decided to stop working. Somehow, we lost the connection between the GPS and wi-fi. So we unfortunately had to end our day earlier on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, our team went to Holden and had the coalition training. In the morning, we attended the presentation from Aubrey Strause, a Project Manager at Tata & Howard, Inc. The presentations were about drainage extension and IDDE documentation package. In the afternoon, we had training on water sampling. I got a chance to do a chlorine test in front of several municipal officials. Because of the professional laboratory skills I learnt at WPI, I am glad I did not blow up the town hall.

Overall, I am very happy doing this project. It gives me experience of working in a real life situation. In college, we gain knowledge of theories, but we are not sure what else will happen in real life. The project makes me realize that I should always prepare for the unexpected events such as change of schedule, the uncharged battery, disconnected wi-fi, etc. One of the ways to deal with these unexpected events is always planning ahead of time and keeping a positive attitude.

 

Week 3

Written by: Hannah Bond

As part of our work this week, we met with Brad Stone, the Stormwater Coordinator for the town of Shrewsbury. We interviewed him about various topics  pertaining to the MS4 permit and Shrewsbury’s compliance with it. Although we were supposed to receive training on outfall mapping and then go do some mapping, we were unable to do so because the GPS unit was uncharged and Shrewsbury didn’t have the charger. However, this gave Brad time to show us something entirely different: how he tests water for pollutants.

We all went down to Dean Park, and Brad showed us Dean Pond, but also showed us a very small stream of water flowing through a culvert. He said that the stream is usually fuller, but due to the dry weather this year there was hardly any water passing through.

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Brad took out a device used for measuring various pollutants, then took a sample of the water and tested it for phosphorus, a chemical that is commonly found in fertilizers and that causes an overgrowth of algae when it gets into waterways. The device gave us results very quickly; it turns out that the phosphorus in the water was at a level of .24 mg/L. This in and of itself was interesting, but what Brad told us next really made an impact on me. He pulled out a notebook of past measurements of pollutant levels in water, flipped to the page for this waterbody, and told us that last time he measured phosphorus here, it only came back at .07 mg/L. He told us that the reason it came back so much higher this time was because we were sampling during wet weather and phosphorus was being washed away from lawns into the water!

Throughout our research last term, we all learned about what a major environmental problem stormwater was, so I guess I knew that it caused problems like this. However, actually testing the water and seeing the huge increase of pollution after it rained really brought the point home for me. I guess in a way it made the effects of stormwater pollution feel more concrete; it wasn’t just something I’d read about, but now it was something that I’d gone out and seen for myself as well. The polluted water in this tiny little waterway was on its way to a much bigger body of water, Dean Pond, where people probably swim in the summer. Brad told us about how he sometimes goes to test water that he knows has a high bacteria count, and there will be families there with little kids playing in the water.

This makes me realize how important stormwater management really is- just about everyone loves swimming in the summer, but do we really want people exposed to all the pollutants that got washed away into the water with the last rainstorm? Have any kids ever gotten sick after swimming, not knowing that it was due to bacteria in the pond from pet waste that got washed into the storm sewer? We obviously can’t stop the rain from falling, but by working towards better stormwater management by better complying with the MS4, municipalities will be able to reduce the amount of pollution that the rainwater carries with it. As I saw with the phosphorus example earlier on, it’s clear that stormwater is a major contributor to water pollution, and that any measures to reduce its impact will have a significant effect on water quality, hopefully making the water safer for animals, aquatic plants, and humans alike.

 

Week 2

Written by: Michael Racine

For the majority of this week, we carefully analyzed the 2003 MS4 permit and 2013 MS4 draft permit to ensure that we understand all of the detailed requirements. We also researched Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, which we will be visiting next Tuesday, 11/12/2013. We observed annual MS4 reports, outfall maps, Conservation Committee minutes, and letters to the USEPA from town officials.

While reading through the letters from Shrewsbury municipal officials to the USEPA, we noticed that the officials expressed many concerns about the 2013 draft MS4 permit. There were many concerns about lack of funding and manpower to meet these requirements, and because of this, Shrewsbury believes it is infeasible to meet the requirements in the time allowed by the USEPA without getting fined. Even though I read and understood the 2013 MS4 draft permit, reading these letters to the USEPA really put the work required into perspective. This made me think a lot about my childhood and the work my family went through in order to renovate our home.

Ever since I moved into my home in Wallingford, Connecticut about 13 years ago, we have always had some construction project going on. For instance, we’ve paved our driveway, built several stone walls, created a sidewalk, added two decks, and put new shingles on our roof. This is because the house we bought was in fairly poor condition, even though we are set in a great location. For lots of these projects, my parents had a tough time meeting all town and state regulations required to actually begin building. First, the plans would have to get approved, and only then could we begin the project. Afterwards, we would have to get the project inspected to make sure it met all the requirements. Sometimes, some of the tiniest things would have to be changed in order to meet the requirements, such as the spacing of railings on our deck.

Although it can be very frustrating to meet all the requirements for a certain municipal project, I know that these requirements are created with good intentions in mind. Therefore, I can truly understand municipal official’s concerns on meeting the requirements of the MS4 permit, especially the new 2013 draft permit. Since the last actual permit was released in 2003, the 2013 draft MS4 permit takes a huge leap in stormwater management regulations. I can see why these municipalities need additional funding, time, and manpower, in order to meet the requirements, hence why they seem somewhat unfeasible within the given time frame. I think that finding these letters could have been the most important document found in our research because it is the first document that expresses the municipalities’ viewpoints on meeting the MS4 requirements. However, even though they may besomewhat unfeasible within the allotted time frame, they are necessary to reduce stormwater pollution in Massachusetts, and why everyone’s best efforts need to be made in order for municipalities to comply with the 2013 draft permit.

Overall, reading these letters really made me understand why our project is so important to MassDEP and the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition. Even though the EPA’s new 2013 draft MS4 permit has a huge amount of additional requirements for municipalities to fulfill, they are necessary for reducing stormwater pollution in Massachusetts. I now realize that our project is not only important by providing extra manpower to help prepare municipalities for the new draft MS4 permit, but by also providing a way to make meeting the requirements of the permit easier across all 30 municipalities in the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition for the future.

 

Week 1

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This photo shows our team and the other WPI team working with MassDEP. To the far front left is Carissa Lord, the former bi-state stormwater coordinator for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We took this picture after attending a presentation Carissa gave on stormwater management in the Blackstone River Watershed (in Central Massachusetts and Northern Rhode Island). During this presentation, we learned a little bit more about Leicester specifically, as well as some general information about the challenges of stormwater management. Since we have been doing a lot of similar work as the other team, we thought this photo captured the first of week of our project well. The general outcomes of this week were learning the specifics of the MS4 permit and reading the annual reports of the municipalities we will be working with.