Stormwater Rising: PVD tries to control flow

flooded I-95 with Jesse Jewels
Mermaid Jesse Jewels photoshopped herself onto I-95

Over the course of the last decade, RI has experienced more destructive flooding than ever before. This is an issue for businesses that are forced to either shut down or close altogether, and takes a huge toll on our environment when the waste on the streets flows into our waterways.

Stormwater runoff is caused by rain or snowmelt that does not soak into the ground and flows over surfaces like roads, parking lots and rooftops. Runoff picks up dirt, chemicals, trash, sediment, and many other pollutants that end up in our waterways.

In September 2022, an intense rainstorm caused drastic amounts of runoff, resulting in I-95 closures, cars stranded in the floods, and the collapse of a portion of Bucklin Plaza in South Providence.

Nikki Gyftopolous, owner of Thr3e Live Dance Complex, which until the storm rented space in Bucklin Plaza, had built the studio “from scratch” in the warehouse space, hoping to upgrade their business. They invested a great deal of time and money into creating their dream studio, including mirrors, f looring, walls, electrical systems and new cooling and heating systems.

At the time, “A lot was up in the air and we just had to take it day by day. We had to let everyone know that everything was canceled until further notice,” said Gyftopolous. They have reopened temporarily in The Event Factory located at 144 Metro Center Blvd in Warwick.

“It is going to take a lot of time and support to rebuild what we lost, but we are lucky to have a space for our dancers to continue training,” she said. It will take more help from the state, cities, and civilians to rebuild these businesses and, more importantly, to stop destructive storms from taking away livelihoods.

But what has been put in place to combat the destruction these storms can cause?

Mike Jarbeau, the Narragansett Baykeeper from Save the Bay, said that wastewater treatment has improved and that the main problem right now is stormwater running into our waterways after picking up pollutants from other areas.

“We realized that it was not exactly ideal to be emptying out waste into our waterways. With pet waste, runoff, oil, dirt and sediment, and the rest of the pollutants that come with daily life, we were seeing extremely polluted waterways. This is why there would be beach closures and no-fishing rules, it could have been dangerous for people to be ingesting those pollutants. The main problem now is stormwater,” said Jarbeau.

There are now more filtration systems put in place, so there is a way to avoid having all of the waste from daily life in the water we drink or swim in.

The Providence Stormwater Innovation Center, “Uses the nature-based infrastructure projects installed in Roger Williams Park to provide training, test innovative strategies and host public education programming on stormwater and green infrastructure.” Roger Williams Park Zoo has put over 40 nature-based stormwater practices into place to reduce phosphorus pollution by 85%. Things like shrubs, grass, and trees can be used as buffers to f ilter out some of the pollutants in the stormwater before they are transported into larger bodies of water.

In 2017 Mayor Jorge Elorza signed an agreement with the Department of Environmental Management to bring PVD’s stormwater management system into compliance with the municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Program. This would resolve a number of violations of the Federal Clean Water Act that had been building up over the years in PVD, as a previous article in 2022 explained.

Other steps are being taken to combat these problems. For example, Question 3 on the RI ballot proposed a $50 million environmental bond that will “channel money to open space preservation, climate resilience, brownfields cleanups, the protection of Narragansett Bay and other initiatives focused on the environment in the Ocean State,” stated Terrence Gray, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, in an article in the Providence Journal.

Jarbeau said, “The further up Narragansett Bay you go, the more polluted it gets.” Protecting the Bay will decrease the amount of pollution we see in the water and, in turn, reduce the amount of polluted runoff that ends up in not just the Bay, but other waterways as well.

Steps like this are the reason the wastewater problem has gotten better, however, there is still a lot to be done. The everyday person can help by correctly disposing of trash and chemicals, cleaning up pet waste when it’s outside, cleaning/ sweeping fertilizer or dirt back into grass and gardens if it ends up in a cemented area, and so many more small steps. If this problem gets worse, we will see significantly less access to clean water and more shutdowns from local beaches and other water sources.