Next Big Challenge For Orleans: Stormwater

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Groundwater protection

DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley, right, and DPW Manager Ron Trudeau presented draft findings from a study of the town’s stormwater management needs to the marine and fresh water quality committee Oct. 21. The committee will meet again Nov. 18 at 10 a.m.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Water is a blessing and a challenge for the town. The beauty of the bays, the peace of the ponds, and the freshness of the drinking water are balanced by the need to manage wastewater and stormwater and to deal with erosion and flooding.

With a decades-long plan to address wastewater in place, attention is turning to a possible long-range plan for another pollutant, stormwater runoff. There’s extensive infrastructure in place already, but the draft findings of a recent study indicate the need for repairing and retrofitting stormwater drainage areas to reflect best management practices. The construction cost spread over 15 years could amount to almost $12 million.

“I know this is a big number,” DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley said as he shared a draft of the Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, Inc., report with the marine and fresh water quality committee Oct. 21. Accomplishing the proposed work, member Carol Etzold said, “will take until everybody in this room isn’t on the planet anymore.”

The draft report, which was on the selectmen’s agenda at their meeting last night (Nov. 6), offers an “initial analysis of pollutant loads, current and future mitigation policies, and a cost-effective strategy to meet water quality improvement and stormwater management goals,” according to the executive summary. The company notes that “water quality improvement activities have focused heavily on development and implementation of the CWMP (Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan), but the town also recognizes that stormwater can play a significant role in nutrient management and reduction of other pollutants, particularly for its fresh water resources.”

Additional impetus comes from the town’s current federal discharge permit, which, according to the report, requires “the identification of at least five town-owned properties that could be modified or retrofitted with stormwater best management practices to reduce impervious areas and improve water quality by June 30, 2022.”

Some years ago, the town compiled a database of its stormwater infrastructure. “Since 1990, there’s been a lot of good work on stormwater,” Daley said. “They need to be maintained,” including clearing out sediment. The town inventoried all the outfalls where best management practices for stormwater are in place.

The draft study recommends four general actions. The top priority is rehabilitation of existing best-management-practice infrastructure that is damaged or not working as designed. Next would come improvement of existing systems to “maximize pollutant removal.” The third priority is retrofitting the town’s remaining outfalls with best-management-practice systems. A fourth priority, not included in the cost estimates, involves installation of stormwater collection systems in high pollutant load areas, which the report did not identify.

Removal of nitrogen and phosphorous from groundwater is the overall goal.

Daley said the town has kept after its stormwater systems via $180,000 in annual funding from town meeting, which allows clearing of catch basins and clogged pipes and work on some small projects. “We will be testing outfalls within a year or two,” he said. The long-range work will require a place in the town’s capital plan, which is approved by the voters.

The committee reviewed a list of its priorities for ponds with Daley. Member Judith Bruce said the recent Route 6 paving project has allowed stormwater to run off the road faster into Baker’s Pond, which chairman Carolyn Kennedy said “has the town’s best water quality.”

Saying that she hated “to put more issues on the table,” Bruce asked about sea level rise and runoff from Rock Harbor Road. “When I first came to town, I almost never saw the marsh fill and the road wash over,” she said. “Now the marsh fills and Rock Harbor is overwashed in every storm… I expect that the whole road will have to be lifted.”

“Say you raise Rock Harbor Road three feet,” Daley posited. “The properties behind it are flooded.”

Summing up, Kennedy said, “This is a town with lots of water. You look at a map and say, ‘Where’s the land?’