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Resiliency. What does it mean, and what is Rhode Island doing about it?
By Jenny Pereira / April 8, 2014 /   Loading Disqus...

Resiliency. What does it mean, and what is Rhode Island doing about it? Rhode Islanders began to hear the word more frequently after super storm Sandy battered our coastline last year. The Foundation, through our work in the environment sector, has been looking closely at available tools, policy, and infrastructure to strengthen our ability to rebound from future disasters and impacts of a changing climate. For example, the Foundation is supporting the development of a Shoreline Special Area Management Plan led by the URI Coastal Resources Center, that will help communities identify strategies and address erosion and flooding issues.  And what about stormwater?

  • Recently, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management declared emergency closures of shellfishing areas in Point Judith Pond and Potters Pond “as a result of excessive rainfall and runoff.”  
  • In 2012, Rhode Island beaches experienced 29 closures.
  • During the heavy rains of 2010, parts of Route 95 were closed due to flooding.

When it rains, particularly in more developed areas where there are less unpaved surfaces to soak up water, streets flood and contamination flows through storm drains into Narragansett Bay and its rivers. Rain – or “stormwater” – carries pollution like pesticides, oil from roadways, and human and animal waste into the Bay, making it unsafe for us to swim and closing beaches. Stormwater run-off is a primary contributor to poor water quality in the Bay and arguably the most complex. The number of extreme precipitation events occurring annually in Rhode Island has doubled since 1914, and scientists project rising ocean and Bay temperatures, rising sea levels, and more intense storms in the future.

Harvesting shellfish, fishing, swimming, and property damage from floods: these are just some of the reasons why Rhode Islanders are paying more attention to stormwater. One answer is “green infrastructure,” which uses soil and vegetation to capture water. If pavement drives stormwater into the Bay, then penetrable surfaces that allow stormwater to seep into the ground is one alternative.

Rhode Island’s experience to date suggests that green infrastructure works! Between 2000 and 2012, the Bristol town beach experienced over 169 inches of summer rainfall and 72 beach closure days. The town installed a “vegetated treatment system” (green infrastructure) and had zero beach closures in 2013. (Beach closures don’t only prevent fun in the sun; those 72 closures resulted in 2,808 lost days of work for 30 employees.)

Complex issues need strong leadership and collective action. Last fall, the Rhode Island Foundation convened a group of more than 28 professionals and practitioners collaborating to protect Rhode Island’s environment to talk about stormwater.   Organizations like the Audubon Society of RI, Clean Water Action, the RI Nursery and Landscape Association, Save the Bay, and URI Coastal Institute, and state and local leaders working on different part of the stormwater problem came together to share experiences, learn from each other, and develop a collective path toward solutions. The resulting Stormwater Coalition is focused on promoting green infrastructure to help with flood control, recharge groundwater supplies, and provide all the other benefits that greenspace can offer our communities. The Coalition partnered with local artist Stephanie Yin to produce this video on stormwater management and green infrastructure.


In the months ahead, the Coalition will work on a variety of policy and advocacy fronts to develop financing strategies and promote green infrastructure. They’ll also be on the ground, working, for example, with large institutions like schools and hospitals that are ideal for large public installations of green infrastructure. 

Resiliency? We’re getting there.


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