Snapshots

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From left to right: (Top Row) – Michael Racine, Hannah Bond, and Yang Yang;
(Bottom Row) – Carissa Lord, Vinay Pai, Vanessa Gorton, and Andrew Botelho

Week 1

The first week of our project term was quite packed. Between meetings with our sponsors at the MassDEP and analyzing the 2003 and the draft 2013  MS4 permits, there was very little time to spare! Additionally, we analyzed the annual report of the town of Holden, a municipality we are working with in our project. However, our team (along with another WPI project team working with the MassDEP) managed to make it to the presentation of Carissa Lord, a regional expert on stormwater management. She was recently working with the Blackstone River and Ten Mile River watersheds in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to improve their stormwater management under a grant given by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Her presentation gave us insight into actions taken to help municipalities with their stormwater plans. Thank you to Carissa for presenting and the MassDEP for hosting the presentation!

Week 2

by Vanessa Gorton

On Tuesday, November 8th, our group had the opportunity to visit the town of Holden and work with the Senior Civil Engineer, Isabel McCauley.  She introduced our team to two Department of Public Works employees, Greg and Eric. Our group was working in a residential neighborhood to delineate catchment areas and clean out catch basins.  To clean out these storm drains, we used a large truck apparatus known as a Stetco Catch Basin Cleaner.  Once the grate was removed, the operator lowered the truck’s hydraulic crane into the catch basin and scooped up the dirt and other debris.  The operator then raised the crane to empty the scoop into the bed of the truck.  Although this process may sound simple, operating this machine was difficult for a beginner such as myself!  Greg and Eric offered each team member chance to control the crane.  Below is a video of me cleaning out a catch basin. Throughout the day, Eric and Greg kept telling our team, “Stay in school, kids.  You don’t want to be doing this for a living”.  However, working in the field gave me the opportunity to see first-hand that without their efforts, stormwater management would not be possible!

Week 3

by Vinay Pai

This past week, our team spent most of its time out in the field locating catch basins and outfalls. By mapping the stormwater infrastructure, municipalities can track the flow of stormwater and quickly identify sources of pollution. We worked with Holden and Auburn this week. While in Holden, we encountered an area that had several catch basins with pipes leading to a wooded area. No outfall for this flow had yet been mapped. Along with Isabel McCauley, Senior Civil Engineer at the town of Holden and 2 of Holden’s DPW workers, our team entered the woods to search for the outfall. Being the primary cameraman, I thought it would be a good idea to record our journey. However being a chilly morning and a heavily wooded area, that task proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. I struggled to keep my balance with a camera in hand; let alone be able to get quality footage. This experience put into perspective the difficulty of being a cameraman while in action. Watching nature television shows with cameraman actively moving  to follow the point of interest, I always figured that being a cameraman wasn’t a difficult task. In my short journey, I realized that I could not have been more wrong! Though it was cold and difficult journey, it was quite satisfying when we found the outfall after about 15 minutes of following the nearby stream. Below is a portion of my attempt at recording the hunt for the missing outfall.

Week 4

By: Andrew Botelho

Today marks the ninth and final day we’ve gone to a town to map outfalls and catch basins.  When I look back on this journey, there are several events and impressions that stick out in my mind.  Of these memories, the ones that immediately stand out are the days we spent exploring and mapping Auburn, MA.

Out of the three towns we visited, Auburn is the most urbanized and heavily populated municipality.  There is a large shopping complex in the center of town surrounded by what seems like countless neighborhoods scattered throughout the steep hills and valleys of Central Massachusetts.  Not to mention, Interstate 290 runs right down the middle of town.  While adventuring through the neighborhoods, the first thing I noticed, which only became more apparent as the days went on, was the old age of the houses and communities we were mapping.  All of the houses had a classic 1970s look to them, and it seemed like every manhole was stamped with a date from the same time period.  Each neighborhood we mapped strongly reminded me of the neighborhood that my dad grew up in during the 1970s – individual communities with humbly small houses all packed together in a tight-knit fashion.

After our second day in Auburn, I found myself wondering why it seemed like each neighborhood was straight out of the 1970s.  Since construction of the U.S. Interstate system started in the 1950s, it would definitely make sense that the rapid suburbanization of Auburn began after the Interstate was finished – after all, it did seem like the entire town was built around I-290.  After a quick Google search, I found out that sure enough, I-290 was completed in 1970 (http://www.bostonroads.com/roads/I-290_MA/).  It all made sense!

During that third day of mapping, I couldn’t help but think how each neighborhood was like stepping into a time capsule from the 1970s.  I thought about how all of these houses were built to move families closer to the Interstate and were a perfect example of the mid-20th century suburbanization of America – a great time period in American history.  After thinking about this for a while, it occurred to me that by mapping out the town’s stormwater drainage system, we were in some sense continuing the suburbanization process that created these neighborhoods many years ago.  Since new technology and information tells us that the old methods of stormwater drainage can hurt the environment, it was our job to take part in improving the infrastructure.  I don’t know if a lot of other people would hold this sentiment, but I think it’s very cool that in some sense I was able to continue mid-20th century American suburbanization by mapping outfalls and catch basins.

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Andrew Botelho (left) and Vinay Pai (right) mapping a catch basin in a classic Auburn, MA neighborhood.

Final Reflection

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From left to right – Vinay Pai, Andrew Botelho, and Vanessa Gorton standing in fron a massive pile of eco-friendly de-icing salt.

Coming into this project, our team had no idea of the complexity of the problem of stormwater. To us, it was as simple as water flowing into the storm drains, then into sewage pipes to be treated and somehow ending up in the ocean. Over the course of this project, our eyes were opened to the enormous world of stormwater management. We were able to see first-hand the numerous tasks that municipalities had to complete to meet the requirements of the MS4 permit. We met with many interesting and knowledgeable people that gave us insight into the importance of this issue.

It was only 60 years ago when many towns and cities were still dumping raw sewage into the waters of the United States.  Since then, the country has made impressive strides in the advancement of clean waters in the U.S.  The task of managing stormwater pollution is only the latest chapter in this storied fight against water pollution.  Our team takes great appreciation in knowing that we were able to take part in the management of stormwater.  The health of our water bodies affects our everyday lives, and we take great pride knowing that the efforts we put into this project may make a difference in improving the health of water supplies in Central Massachusetts.  We want to thank Professors Dehner and Belz along with our sponsor – the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection – for giving us the opportunity to work on such an important project and topic.