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Urban Ponds and Storm Water

The EJ League, Urban Pond Procession, and Groundwork Providence are working together on a new campaign to address stormwater pollution in Mashapaug Pond, Providence’s only remaining natural pond, located in South Providence. 

See below for all the great successes we’ve already had in Reservoir Triangle around the pond!  Addressing stormwater pollution has a ton of positive impacts you might not even be aware of — things like:

  • beautifying and adding green space to urban neighborhoods
  • improving air quality with more trees and plants
  • reducing flooding on our streets
  • creating jobs and training opportunities for Providence residents
  • helping our neighborhoods be more resilient in the face of climate change impacts like heat waves, storms, and major flooding events
  • improving the quality of Rhode Island’s water bodies and beaches — from our urban ponds and rivers to Narraganset Bay — they’re all connected!

Solving our stormwater problem is central to achieving environmental justice in Providence and Rhode Island’s other urban centers.  Our urban communities have higher poverty and unemployment rates, its where the majority of people of color in the state live, and these are the same places with poorer air and water quality and less access to good things like green space, recreational opportunities, and the beauty of the natural environment.  Cleaner water means more recreational opportunities like fishing and boating can happen right in our cities and we’ll be safer when we go to beaches on the coast.  Protecting our waterways, adding more green space, and improving the public spaces we already have means we’ll benefit by being more connected to the natural environment too.  Investing in green infrastructure means more jobs can be created for residents in Providence and other cities to install and maintain rain gardens and permeable pavement, de-pave driveways and right-of-ways, cut curbs and plant trees.

Check out our resident handbook on stormwater and green infrastructure below, created specifically for Reservoir Triangle, but can definitely be used for other neighborhoods across the state!

Resident Handbook – Stormwater and Green Infrastructure (pdf)

Image of Full Resident Handbook

Check out updates on the cleanup of the Gorham Manufacturing Site and Mashapaug Pond, plus learn the history of Gorham in Providence’s Reservoir Triangle neighborhood.  

“Toxic Legacy” — A short film about Gorham and Alvarez High School
Alvarez’s 2013 AP Environmental Science Class and Artist David Stephens

Toxic Legacy… from Urban Pond Procession on Vimeo.

This project is funded by the EPA Urban Waters Small Grants Program.

View of Mashapaug Pond — a Providence gem!

Past Urban Waters Project Events and Workshops:

We’ll be hosting more of these types of events and workshops in the future, so keep checking in to see how you can get involved!

September 15th, 2012 – Kick-Off – Mashapaug Pond Party:  We want to make sure people see Mashapaug Pond as a real asset and natural resource in our city.  Duck Truck Tours are a good first step!  We took about 75 people out on the water at our kick-off event in September and had a great time with food, music, and games for kids.

Duck Boat on Mashapaug

Principal Socorro Gomez-Potter from the Reservoir Avenue Elementary School enjoys her first time on Mashapaug Pond

Duck Truck on Mashapaug

October 20th, 2012 – Stormwater Walk led by George Harvey, Landscape Designer and project partner from Groundwork Providence:  20 people from the neighborhood and allies from partner organizations participated in a walk around Mashapaug Pond, focusing mostly on JT Owens ballfield and the Huntington Industrial Park.  George talked with us about various ways stormwater could be better managed to prevent runoff from the fields and businesses there including:

  • raising grated storm drains located near baseball fields to slow down water rushing into pond
  • planting native plants to prevent soil erosion and slow water down, help it be absorbed
  • identifying specific pollution sources and stopping them at the source (see photo below)
  • raising the top of a building’s downspout just a couple inches so that rainwater can collect on the roof of the building and naturally evaporate rather then run down the downspout into the street
  • directing downspouts into plants, grass, or other vegetated areas

Check out this presentation created by Ana Mendiburu, a Reservoir Triangle resident, that summarizes what we learned on the stormwater walk:  Stormwater Walk Overview (pdf) 

Starting in November, members of our team reached out to businesses in the industrial park, many of which have been very receptive to our ideas about better managing stormwater runoff from their properties.   We’re looking forward to working with them to improve their stormwater management practices, including a springtime tree planting among other projects.  Stay tuned for more updates on this!

An example of an avoidable pollution source going into Mashapaug Pond

An example of an avoidable pollution source going into Mashapaug Pond

January 19th, 2013 – Residential Stormwater Workshop: Neighborhood residents, City staff from the Parks Department and Office of Sustainability, among others, participated in a workshop to look at how individual residents could improve stormwater management at their homes and in the neighborhood as a whole.  Residents will begin meeting together to plan out springtime activities and outreach in the neighborhood to get more of their neighbors involved.

George Harvey co-led this workshop and prepared incredibly useful documents (see below) to help residents see tangible ways they could prevent stormwater runoff from their homes, roofs, and lawns.  While a significant portion of the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood’s stormwater flows into the pond, especially from the homes right on the edge of the pond, much of the neighborhood’s stormwater goes into Combined Sewers (pipes where wastewater and stormwater combine) that are directed to Fields Point, the wastewater treatment facility off Allens Avenue.  Ultimately all this treated water goes into Narragansett Bay.  This still means stormwater can overburden the system and cost taxpayers and the City money — so figuring out ways to absorb more stormwater in the neighborhood will help a great deal.

Here are some photos of typical downspouts in Providence – almost always letting out water from the roof onto concrete or some other non-absorbing material. Changing this can be easy though.  We’ll be piloting some ideas in Reservoir Triangle this spring!

Examples of Downspouts in Reservoir Triangle (pdf)

Here are some of the ways residents can help absorb more water coming off their roofs, lawns, and driveways.  The photos on the left are what it looks like in real life, and on the right each photo has been “doctored up” to show an example of a “BMP” – or a “best management practice” to better manage the stormwater.  All renderings were prepared by George Harvey from Groundwork Providence:

Driveway Swale – Residential BMP (pdf)

Right of Way Buffer Strip – Residential BMP (pdf)

Stormwater Planter – Residential BMP (pdf)

May 4th, 2013 – De-paving Demonstration Project at 46 Crescent St.:  Reservoir Triangle resident, Laura Maxwell, volunteered her driveway to our project, allowing the Groundwork Providence green job training program to remove a layer of asphalt and about 6 inches of concrete from her driveway, replacing it with geoblock material and grass that will still allow her to drive across it to get to her garage but will absorb rain water coming off the roof of her house — helping reduce the stormwater load on Mashapaug Pond.  Thanks Laura!  Check out these photos of the process:

asphalt driveway 3

The original asphalt driveway.

laying geoblock

The end result: A grassy area that can absorb roof runoff and stormwater!

Flyer for May 4th events

October 2013 – Right-of-Way Depaving and Planting:  Nellie Richardson and her family gave the EJ League the go-ahead to cut the concrete in front of their home on Algonquin St and create a planted buffer in its place.  This was done with permission from the Providence Department of Public Works, with some materials donated by the Parks Department.  The work was conducted by Groundwork Providence’s job training crew.  Thanks everyone!  Check out the before and after photos: 

crew using concrete cutter

nellie install 1

nellie after 1

The planted buffer captures roof runoff, filters pollutants, and prevents flooding on this street corner!

The EJ League is also working with businesses on the other side of Mashapaug Pond in the Huntington Business Park to implement stormwater solutions.  Ximedica, RI PBS, and Brown University’s Library Collections Annex all participated in a spring tree planting in 2013:

Ximedica trees 2

And we’ll be continuing this outreach in 2014!  The RI Department of Environmental Management, in collaboration with our project, was awarded $50,000 through a legal settlement against Southern Union (an oil/gas company that was found guilty of illegally storing mercury in an unlocked shack in Pawtucket).  This money will go directly to support green infrastructure projects in the Huntington Business Park — and give Groundwork Providence’s job training graduates — GroundCorp — an opportunity for paid, on-the-job professional development.  More details to come on this exciting development!

In the meantime, check out these upcoming events in May 2014:

May 2014 Events for Mashapaug Pond!

Overview of our project: 

While continuing to monitor and advance progress on the cleanup of the former site of the Gorham Manufacturing Company, which sits on Mashapaug Pond, the EJ League, Groundwork Providence, and Urban Pond Procession are launching a new project that focuses on reducing stormwater runoff — the second major source of pollution for this almost 70-acre body of water.

Check out this presentation created by Will York, director of smallFeat for Schools and a project volunteer who lives in the watershed, about what stormwater is in the first place:  What is stormwater? (pdf) 

And this fantastic animated video about the need for green infrastructure in Providence, created by project volunteer, Stephanie Yin:

(HD) Lessons in Water Cycling: Green Infrastructure in Providence, RI from Steph Y on Vimeo.

The main goals of our Mashapaug stormwater project are to:

  • Develop a core group of resident leaders to design and lead this project
  • Educate and engage residents and schoolchildren in the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood on ways they can contribute to the pond’s restoration through outreach, workshops, as well as hands-on trainings in basic stormwater management techniques led by Groundwork Providence
  • Engage businesses in the Huntington Industrial Park located between Niantic Avenue and the pond, get commitments from them to reduce runoff from the business’s properties, and help them achieve these goals
  • Explore the potential to create jobs for Providence residents in the area of stormwater management and adding more green space to our city through innovative funding strategies

Urban stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution for all of our city’s waterways, including Mashapaug Pond, which creates unsafe conditions for people and ecosystems.  Too much phosphorus from pet waste, fertilizers from people’s lawns, oil from the road, road salt, etc. wash into our waterways when it rains and contaminate them.  In Mashapaug Pond, this process helps toxic bacterias develop that are a hazard to people and pets and reduce oxygen levels in the water, making it difficult for healthy plant and animal life to survive.

The solutions to this problem lie in eliminating these pollutants from runoff in the first place (picking up pet waste, not feeding geese or other birds, not using lawn fertilizers, ensuring motor oil is securely disposed of, etc) and increasing the amount of absorptive surfaces in our city — meaning increasing the amount of grass, plants, and trees, and reducing the amount of asphalt, concrete, and other surfaces that don’t absorb rain water.

Check out these maps of Reservoir Triangle created by George Harvey/Groundwork Providence that show how much of the land us taken up by impervious surface (meaning surfaces that don’t absorb water).  Unfortunately this is all-too common all across Providence and is the biggest reason for polluted water quality in our city and state:

Streets in Reservoir Triangle

Streets and Sidewalks

Streets, Sidewalks, and Roofs

Streets, Sidewalks, Roofs, and Driveways

All Impervious Surfaces

Learn more about stormwater here: www.ristormwatersolutions.org

Contact amelia.rose@ejlri.org to get involved. 

More on the Urban Pond Procession (project partner): 

Read up-to-date info on the Urban Pond Procession at www.urbanpondprocession.org

History of the UPP:

Artist Holly Ewald started the Mashapaug Pond Procession as a culminating public event in June 2008 after a several-month residency in local schools and community centers educating young people about the pond and creating silkscreen posters and fish costumes. The posters were then the inspiration for 4 new more pictoral signs with text translated in 3 languages warning pond visitors of the health hazards of the pond site. Eight new signs fabricated by the Department of Transportation are permanently in place around the pond.

The new signs placed around Mashapaug Pond.


6 Responses

  1. The Ocean State Dragon Boat Club (OSDB) has been boating on Mashapaug pond since May. It has been a great place for us to practice. We would love to attend the Procesion but we will be at a race in Boston that day.

    We hope you have a great event Saturday and we appreciate your efforts. We look forward to the health of Mashapaug Pond improving in the future.

    -Meghan from OSDB

  2. […] keep an eye out at the Pond Procession on Saturday. I saw some critters at the edge of a lot on a dead-end off Elmwood Avenue yesterday. […]

  3. […] quick report from the Urban Pond Procession. We started at Mashapaug Pond right behind Job Lot on Reservoir Ave and proceeded to the Temple to […]

  4. I wrote about it here, and I would be happy to link to the video and any other sources to get the word out.
    It was a wonderful event, and I love the posters.

  5. oops– here’s the link to reporting on the procession.


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