September 21, 2011

Stormwater Monitoring

The town of Kingston, Mass., with funding from a Massachusetts Bays Program Research and Planning Grant, and assistance from MIT Sea Grant, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), and the Jones River Watershed Association, is sampling bacteria and suspended sediment at town-owned stormwater outfalls during the summer and fall of 2011. Their goal: the remediation of those outfalls contributing the most pollution to the Jones River Estuary and Kingston Bay.

Stormwater can be a major source of the pollution in streams, rivers, and the ocean. When rain falls on impervious surfaces such as rooftops, roads, and parking lots, pollutants from oil to trash to pathogens are carried directly into storm drains. Because storm drains typically lack filters, these same pollutants are swept straight into the ocean. Kingston Bay receives this kind of stormwater runoff from several communities, and hopes to identify drains and areas that are "hot spots" for either bacteria or nitrogen. The worst “hot spots” can be targeted and eliminated, improving the overall water quality and health of the streams and rivers of Kingston, and of adjoining Duxbury and Plymouth Bays.

The town is highly invested in improving the quality of its waters for environmental, recreational and economic benefits. Historically, the Jones River was one of the largest herring runs in the Commonwealth. Kingston officials would like to see a return of that fishery. Cleaner water will also enhance the quality of swimming beaches, reduce shellfish bed closures, and improve fishing and aquaculture.

MIT Sea Grant’s coastal ecologist, Dr. Juliet Simpson, is contributing to this effort through a program of nutrient sampling in the estuary. Dr. Simpson states, “This is exactly the kind of work MIT Sea Grant was designed for. Kingston has a problem they want to work on, but they don't have quite enough resources to do everything; MIT Sea Grant has the people-power and expertise to work with them to make it happen.”

Working in partnership with the MassDEP and the Jones River Watershed Association, Dr. Simpson will measure nitrogen in Kingston stormwater at 12 sites – stream, river, and ocean – at or near storm sewer outfalls. Three wet-weather sampling events (which must be conducted within an hour of the beginning of the storm, in order to get the first flush of water out of the drains), and three dry-weather (no rain for three days) sampling events, are planned through the fall of 2011.

Once sampling is completed, staff at MassDEP will conduct chemical analyses of the samples. The dry and wet sampling data will be compared to geographic characteristics of the sites such as current and future land use, area drained by storm drain network, amount of impervious surface, and so forth to determine the potential sources of elevated values for either bacteria or nitrogen. Comparative analyses will be made by Kingston Conservation Agent, Maureen Thomas, Jenny Sheppard from MassDEP, and Dr. Simpson. Results will be presented to the town of Kingston during late winter 2012. There are tentative plans to present the conclusions to the neighboring towns of Duxbury and Plymouth, which are also engaged in reducing pollutant loads to the bay.

Maureen Thomas, the conservation agent for the town of Kingston, says they are “very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with MIT Sea Grant, MassDEP & the MassBays Program in this water quality sampling effort . . . It is exciting to know that these well-known organizations are interested in assisting municipalities and local watershed associations with coastal resource issues.” Thomas goes on to note, “I have found these collaborations to be the most rewarding aspect of my work. It is critical to have the expert assistance of these organizations and individuals in order to plan regionally for improving the condition of our coastal waters as well for adapting to the predicted increase in frequency and intensity of storm events in addition to sea level rise.”

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Photo: Juliet Simpson

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