Stormwater can be a major source of 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, 40 miles south of Cambridge, receives stormwater runoff from several communities and hopes to identify drains and areas that are "hot spots" for either bacteria or nitrogen. The worst of these hot spots can be targeted and eliminated, improving overall water quality and health of the streams and rivers of Kingston and of adjoining Duxbury and Plymouth bays.
Kingston 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, Juliet Simpson, is contributing to the Kingston stormwater monitoring effort through a program of nutrient sampling in the Jones River Estuary. Simpson says, “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 Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Jones River Watershed Association, Simpson has been traveling to Kingston to 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 sampling events, taken after there has been no rain for three days, are planned through fall 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 and amount of impervious surface to determine the potential sources of elevated values for either bacteria or nitrogen. 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 Kingston, says the town is “very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with MIT Sea Grant, MassDEP and 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.”