An ongoing campaign attempting to show that everyone can do something small to help make a big positive impact on the natural resources around them is hopefully making an impact among Warwick residents.
“Simple Steps Warwick,” an educational outreach campaign designed to help improve water quality in both Warwick Pond and the waters off Oakland Beach, began when the Warwick City Council approved a $15,800 bid from the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District during their Sept. 6, 2017 meeting.
In the months that have followed, the Conservation District – one of three conservation quasi-public entities tasked with promoting environmental conservancy in the state – has worked with the city engineering department and environmentally savvy members of the city, such as those from Friends of Warwick Ponds and the Buckeye Brook Coalition, to spread the word about how individuals can prevent pollution of their local bodies of water.
“The goal of our project is to simply provide education instead of trying to enact policy changes,” said Molly Allard, who is overseeing the execution of the campaign for the Southern Rhode Island Conservation District. “It includes small changes that homeowners and residents and visitors to the city can make that will add up to make a big difference to water quality in the city over time.”
These small steps largely relate to preventing contaminated water from flowing into storm drains that empty into Warwick Pond as well as storm drains that empty into the waters of Greenwich Bay off the coast of Oakland Beach, either by natural stormwater runoff that occurs during heavy rainfalls or through less overt means – things as simple as washing out your garbage bins with a hose and allowing the water to go into a storm drain.
“I’m concerned about things that the public do not know or maybe don’t understand,” said Philip D’Ercole, coordinator for the Friends of Warwick Ponds and member of the outreach campaign’s Steering Committee. “There are people power washing their home and shingles and they don’t know about the chemicals in the fluid they’re using. Other people are draining their pools and there’s algae going down the street into the storm drains. There are gutters and pipes going out from roofs to the street and that all discharges into the drains.”
Stormwater runoff can be made even more potentially hazardous to waterways if it washes things like animal waste and phosphorous-containing fertilizers into the drainage systems. The educational campaign – which sends out informative flyers along with the quarterly bills to the roughly 27,000 residents who get water through the Warwick Water Division – includes reminders to pick up after their dogs and to not feed water fowl like ducks and seagulls to prevent a buildup of animal waste.
According to Allard, feeding birds may seem to be harmless and beneficial to them, but it can be especially harmful to birds, especially if they are fed human foods like bread or fast food that is not meant to be digested by their systems. Further, the feeding reinforces birds to gather in spots populated by humans, like beaches, where their waste is then concentrated and more easily pushed to the water by storm runoff. Reminders to not feed the birds have been put on waste bins at Oakland Beach as part of this initiative as well.
“A lot of people don’t realize that even just one pet not cleaned up after can actually lead to a beach closure, depending on when and where they test for it,” she said.
Other tips sent within in the mailers and available on the program’s website, SimpleStepsWarwick.com, include fertilizing your lawn sparingly and with fertilizer that doesn’t contain phosphorous, which can contribute to algae blooms and to consider replacing portions of your lawn – especially parts located near gutter spouts – with shrubs and flowerbeds, both of which can better absorb water coming from the gutters and prevent it from washing into the streets and drains.
To summarize, the campaign urges people to: 1) Be mindful of fertilizer use; 2) Make attempts to not let soapy or chemically treated water flow into the street, and plant more shrubs and flowers in the lawn to prevent water from washing into the streets; 3) Always pick up after animals; and 4) Do not feed water fowl like ducks, geese or seagulls, as their waste can add up and harm water quality significantly.
“We’re the ones who cause the pollution, it’s not the city or the state or the airport – it’s us, the people,” D’Ercole said. “We have to start to accept that and take the responsibility to learn more about our environment and maybe decide to learn more about the consequences of cleaning out our garages or garbage bins with a hose and letting all that water flow into the storm drains.”
According to data compiled by the Friends of Warwick Ponds, there are 44 storm drains and 16 areas of concentrated surface flow that discharge into Warwick Pond and its tributaries. There are also about 500 homes within two blocks of the pond. He said that only through a conscious and coordinated effort from the people around these resources will they be adequately protected.
For D’Ercole and Allard, the steps outlined in the campaign are things that everybody can pay mind to and, while they mean like tiny measures that won’t add up to much, a cumulative impact of more awareness and discipline by residents can actually amount to a huge difference.
“I’m a believer in the little things we can do that add up and make a difference in the bigger picture,” Allard said.