Stormwater Working Group – September 24, 2015

Belmont Stormwater Working Group
Meeting Minutes September 24, 2015

A core group of eight of us attended the September meeting to review the September 10 ‘Water Trouble’  forum, and to set priorities for the coming year.  Note: there were no BSWG meetings in July and August, as we prepared for the forum.

Over 75 citizens from Belmont, Arlington, Watertown and elsewhere attended the successful September 10 ‘Water Trouble’  forum at Winn Brook School.  The  BCF web site now includes articles about the event and other stormwater issues, as well as the Stormwater Fact Sheets prepared as handouts for the event. A 90-minute  recording of the event is posted on, and another article about the event is posted on  the Belmont Citizens Herald web site. We will be posting answers to questions submitted during the forum on our BCF web site.

The event provided education about different approaches to storm water management, and enabled a dialogue among different experts and stakeholders from the three towns at a time when tighter EPA regulations are about to be issued.  This education built citizen support for prioritizing increased planning and investment in the necessary sanitary sewer monitoring, inspection, and repairs locally, including help at the state level to ensure that it’s possible to amortize the cost of repairs which will last 100 years over a comparable period (most bond financing is currently restricted to 30 years).

The priorities which we discussed for BSWG included:

  1.  Promote greater town investment in identifying and fixing broken sanity sewers: Broken pipes in our 76-mile sewer system are by far the biggest source of bacteria pollution in Belmont’s ponds and streams. The current approach of fixing pipes as they are exposed during the town’s 30-year Pavement Management program does not appear to be enough to address the problem in a timely manner.  The town can (and does) reline many pipes from manhole to manhole without excavation, so coordination with the Pavement Management program isn’t necessary.  The Belmont Board of Selectmen have requested a public presentation on the Belmont sewer system by Glenn Clancy, Directory of the Office for Community Development.  The likely date will be in November.  We discussed offering to meet with town officials ahead of this meeting, something Ralph offered to take the lead on.   We’d like to understand (a) plans to take smart water quality measurements to prioritize repairs, (b) what is currently known about high risk areas, and (c) how to accelerate the development of a timeline and plan for budgeting for and making the necessary repairs.
  2. Assist with finding and advocating for financing methods for sanitary sewer repair: These might include (a) increased water rates, (b) a new stormwater utility fee,  (c) long-term bond financing (more than 30 years) and/or (d) state and federal grants.   We had a lively discussion about the pros and cons of advocating for (a) versus (b). Given that the main pollution problem with stormwater in Belmont would be addressed by fixing pipes which are funded by the existing water enterprise fund, spending energy to advocate for creating a separate stormwater enterprise fund through a stormwater utility fee seemed like a lower priority than advocating for increase  the rates which go into the existing water enterprise fund.  However, as noted by a recent editorial by Roger Colton, a stormwater utility could make the town eligible for certain state and federal grants (d), and could also be used to address stormwater issues which are not in scope of the existing water enterprise fund, e.g. non-bacteria pollution and funding addressed by green infrastructure projects such as rain gardens. There was agreement that supporting legislative efforts at the state level to allow towns to borrow across multiple generations  for sewer repair (and not just 30 years) was an appropriate priority (c).
  3. Organize a stormwater catch basin stencilling program: In coordination with Belmont DPW, the BSWG could organize volunteers to add stencils which remind citizens not to dump pet waste and toxic waste into the stormwater catch basins. Pet waste in the storm drains is considered a significant source of bacteria in our ponds and streams, yet many uneducated pet owners continue the practice of depositing pet waste into the drains. Belmont Boy Scouts have done small-scale stenciling projects in the past.   We may also want to request that the Town Clerk include a reminder notice when pet owners receive their pet license.
  4. Grant-writing for green infrastructure (e.g. rain gardens): We discussed working with town officials to line up in-kind donations of labor and equipment (“local share”) so we can be prepared for the next grant opportunity which might fund rain gardens at the high school and library. We also discussed working with other stake holders to develop  a workable maintenance plan for such green infastructure projects.
  5. Stormwater education reminders in the water bill: Radha suggested requesting that storm water management tips for citizens be distributed with the water bill.
  6. Clay Pit Pond drainage clean-out and pump down: After some discussion of the research done on this proposal, the group agreed that the highest priority should be on requesting that the town ensure that the drains from Clay Pit Pond be inspected and cleared.  There is visible debris in them which is likely to impede flows during storm events.  Ralph said he’d include this in his planned conversation with Glenn, and Anne-Marie said she would raise this in any conversation she had with Jay Marcotte.  Bill recommended adding Clay Pit Pond to the ICM hydraulic (?hydrology) model being developed for Cambridge (the model currently only goes as far as Blair Pond from the ocean).
  7. Plant More Trees: large trees can be one of the most efficient ways to retain stormwater.  We should work with other stakeholders to figure out what it would take to increase the number of public and private trees in Belmont.
  8. Sewer lateral inspection ordnance:
  9. BoS education: once the next draft of the Climate Change Report is available (late October/early November, with projections on the impact of climate change in 2045 n 2070, BSWG should request that the BoS hear a presentation about it.

Other candidate priorities:

  • Planning Board process: educating the planning board about stormwater issues and which could be raised during the special permits proess may represent an opportunity for citizens to voice concern about storm water management, especially  for larger projects.
  • ABC TriCommunity Flooding Board of Arlington,  Belmont, and Cambridge has been getting very low attendance; citizen attendance could help.

Other ideas which just need volunteers to invest time:

  • Monitor Belmont Manor rain garden: this rain garden was mandated by the Belmont Conservation Commission as a condition of a development project; apparently it’s not working well. Let’s understand whether it’s a design issue or a maintenance issue before we push for
  •  Monitor Belmont electric substation by Blair Pond:  Attending meetings related to new developments keeps officials accountable and citizens informed.  Become an expert in this major project.
  • Monitor new McLean development At the January 13Belmont ConCom meeting, the Conservation Agent (Mary Trudeau) expressed concern about pervious pavement proposed by a recent construction project submitted by the McLean Hospital to the Planning Board. Her concern was that a more comprehensive view of drainage issues (e.g. catch basin location) for the whole site be taken into consideration rather than being considered in individual piecemeal projects.  Attending meetings related to new developments keeps officials accountable and citizens informed. Become an expert in this major project.
  • Monitor Uplands development Attending meetings related to new developments keeps officials accountable and citizens informed.  Research to become an expert on this major construction project to help educate others on what it means to be compliant with the state regulations which use outdated rain data, what the effects of “dewatering” during construction into Little River are, and what has been discovered about the ground water levels on the recently poured foundations.
  • Improve Coordination with Cambridge: understanding regulations:The selectmen and other town officials seem interested in learning more about Cambridge rules and regulations in areas bordering the Belmont Uplands, but still seem hard-pressed to find time to do so. Please contact Anne-Marie if you are able to volunteer to study Cambridge Land Disturbance RegulationsCambridge Wastewater and Stormwater Use Regulations,and/or Cambridge Zoning Regulations in the Concord-Alewife Overlay District and Floodplain Overlay District  so that we can help educate ourselves and own town about any lessons learned.
  • Improve Coordination with Cambridge and Arlington:  Fresh Pond Developmentsat 88 Cambridge Park Drive, New Street, and other nearby sites in Cambridge, as well as the newly proposed 40B project on the Mugar Property across Route 2 in Arlington are progressing rapidly through the permitting process and may have stormwater impact on waterways connected to Belmont.  Attend the ABC Tri Community Flooding Group meetings or monitor the Cambridge City web site or the Fresh Pond Residents Alliance or the Coalition to Save the Mugar Wetlands web sites for details.