On June 18th, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza commemorated the launch of the Providence Stormwater Innovation Center (PSIC). The Roger Williams Park Conservancy joined the Department of Environmental Management, the Providence Parks Department, EPA Region 1, the Roger Williams Park Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy, and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island on a Zoom-based press event to celebrate the event.

The Center is committed to preventing pollution issues caused by stormwater runoff in the Roger Williams Park ponds by using green infrastructure. Over 40 structural and non-structural practices have been installed in the park over the past two years, and were recently completed ahead of the proposed installment schedule. These practices are impressive opportunities for learning and improvement, and knowledge about best practices will be shared with other stormwater initiatives and organizations. PSIC further hopes to engage with regional communities and spread awareness about stormwater practices. This engagement will occur through training, signage, and blog posts. The Seal House will also be renovated to serve as an information center about Green Stormwater infrastructure.

“I am most excited about the opportunities for community engagement that it [this center] will bring. We want the community’s help in creating this vision,” says Major Jorge Elorza. “So, I’m excited to see Providence youth coming to enjoy Roger Williams Park this summer and interacting with the kiosk at the Seal House; we’ve also incorporated learning from this center into some of our summer educational opportunities.”

Stormwater can carry pollutants, such as oil, litter, and fertilizers from impervious surfaces such as roads, roofs, and sidewalks. In order to keep our ponds healthy and enjoyable, the Center focuses on utilizing green infrastructure to reroute or purify stormwater.

“Out of the 435 acres that make up the Park, 100 of those acres are covered by water; and the water quality has been poor. Improving water quality will improve the recreational use of those 100 acres and greatly enhance the experience for our visitors,” says Deputy Superintendent of the Providence Parks Department Brian Byrnes, who was one of the main contributors to this project’s proposal and development.

EPA Region One administrator Dennis Deziel echoed this sentiment at the launch. He said, “Stormwater pollution is the number one threat to clean water.” Despite efforts to reduce stormwater pollution, “Stormwater runoff continues to contribute to swimming beach closures, limited shell fishing, and loss of functional coastal habitat. The Providence Stormwater Innovation Center provides an opportunity to share best practices for handling stormwater runoff with municipal officials and the public.”

The Center’s work is part of a larger effort to raise awareness in New England communities about the possible uses of green infrastructure for keeping our urban and recreational areas clean. Green infrastructure is fascinating because it uses natural elements, including native plant cover, to both improve park ecosystems and protect bodies of water from pollution. Using natural elements can help with other environmental concerns such as climate regulation or wildlife health. As PSIC members work on managing different structures, such as infiltration basins and sand filters [you can see a whole list of our structures here], water quality data will also be collected. The Center’s staff and volunteers will use this data to determine the effectiveness of our structures, and to investigate ways to improve them. We’re already learning valuable lessons from the structures that we have implemented, and are excited to learn even more.

“From your wet swale at the Polo Lake Overlook to the infiltration basin at the cemetery, projects like these, which are specific and local, will cumulatively help us to address problems with filtering and cleaning stormwater,” DEM Director Janet Coit said. “DEM will continue to spread the learning from this center across the state to improve impure waterways.”

Ryan Kopp, the Stormwater Center manager, said, “It is very exciting to be a part of such an important project that will improve water quality, not only in my neighborhood park, but also provide other municipalities and organizations with vital information to implement their own similar stormwater systems.”

The Roger Williams Park Conservancy and the Stormwater Center would like to extend a thank you to the partners who made this project possible, including the  City of Providence Parks Department, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, The Nature Conservancy, the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, and the University of New Hampshire Stormwater Center.

PSIC’s work is funded by the City of Providence’s capital improvement plan, and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s grants to Restore America’s Estuaries to implement the SNEP Watershed Grant Program, and to the New England Environmental Finance Center to support the SNEP Network. We have also received awards from the Robbins-De Beaumont Foundation and the Rhode Island Foundation.

If you are excited about contributing to the center, or even just curious about learning more, there are ways to get involved! You can sign up for our blog mailing list here, or register to attend training and information sessions here. Although the training for this upcoming field season of URI’s Watershed Watch data collection program has already passed, please keep an eye out if you would like to volunteer next season or in the future; there will be updates and further information on their webpage here. Another impactful way to get involved is to help us with Picture Posts whenever you are visiting the park, taking some photos can provide us with valuable information about the health of the ponds.

The Center is also seeking additional funding for outfitting the Seal House with signage and displays about water quality monitoring and green stormwater infrastructure, for use by local communities and visitors to the park. Please reach out to Ryan Kopp at [email protected] if you have questions or would like to donate.

You can also follow PSIC on Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube. We look forward to communicating with you more in the future! Stay tuned for updates about projects, ways to keep your communities healthy, and general stormwater news.

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