Greater City Providence

Repost: Seeking a solution (to flooding and beach closures)

After the 2010 floods, I wrote about the public desire for some sort of solution to prevent future flooding. Spoiler, we can’t prevent future floods, but we can change what we’re doing to mitigate the impact of flooding.

We haven’t had a giant flood since, but related to the flooding problem is stormwater runoff polluting the bay. Bob Plain writes today on RIFuture about how Warwick has been heavily impacted by beach closures related to pollution caused by runoff.

Also today, Save The Bay is holding a press conference about the high number of beach closings this year. The AP’s Erika Niedowski tweets from the press conference:

That is to say, I believe, that the Providence Combined Sewer Overflow Project is working, but our paved and other impervious surfaces are still causing us harm.

In 2010 it was massive flooding which was supposed to be our wake-up call about the damage our built environment was doing to us. We did not learn many lessons it would seem from those floods, as a year later a smiling Cranston Mayor Fung celebrated the opening of a new Stop & Shop on the banks of the Pawtuxet.

Will we learn any lessons from our 2013 beach closures wake-up call?

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • I’m not an expert, but would it make sense to tighten-up car inspections to check for ‘drippings’, ban types of home lawn care fertilizers/treatments, sweep streets more often, and clean out the catchbasins? Providence has an unglodly number of catchbasins that are clogged-to-full, and I wonder if that impacts the runoff situation.

    On the flood front… Would it make sense to dredge some of the more vulnerable areas of rivers, or dredge and then install concrete liners to speed the water through during flood situations?

  • While your suggestions could be helpful (but not terribly realistic considering how much they would cost to implement) the bottom line is that we need less pavement and more bioswales to combat flash flooding. More trees would help too.

  • Asphalt has a strong hold on the purse strings of local, state, and federal government. My uncle’s family made millions in Massachusetts from it. Until we look critically at how all these paved over surfaces – cryptically labeled “the last crop the land produces” – erode our real standard of living (based upon natural resources like healthy soil, clean water, and a more pristine, less chemically-polluted environment) we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  • So… Changing society to be more urban is cheaper and more realistic than dredging and cleaning out storm drains?

    A practical solution to sprawl, which is where the problem of runoff becomes uncontrollable, is to split the state up into zones, then tax by square footage. Tax cities based on -unused- land, and suburbs by -used- land. Basically, encorage people to build in the cities where we have CSO mitigation projects, and prevent more suburbanization by making suburban development pay for the costs they currently externalize.

  • I agree that moving people to cities where they belong is a great way to combat sprawl, but the cities have to be places where people want to LIVE. So, you know, great parks, and excellent school systems and good housing stock. You can’t just “wish” people back into the cities. There are reasons people left for the soulless suburbs, people like things like yards and gardens and stupid cul-de-sacs.

    In the meantime, make it a requirement that when someone pulls a permit for paving a driveway or a parking lot that they use new innovative materials that allow the runoff to filter down rather than run-off.

    I live in the epicenter of sprawl in Northern Virginia and I can tell you that we don’t really have a runoff problem except on the many million miles of highways. There are bio swales and retention ponds and all kinds of stormwater remediation. With the exception of a rabid beaver in one of the manmade park lakes, folks actually swim in bodies of water here. So my experience is that the big runoff issues are in cities, especially old cities, like Providence, with lots of impervious surfaces (parking lots, empty filthy lots, roofs, not enough trees, etc) right along rivers that cause damage both in the city and downriver in the suburbs. Sound familiar?

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