Newton Storm Water Management
||Storm drain near Crystal Lake
What’s in a (storm) drain?
Which by any other name (“catch basin”) should smell
as sweet—as clean rain water. Ideally, it should contain
The storm drains in our roads, however, also collect whatever
the rains wash off the roads: dirt, leaves, trash, chemicals from
car exhaust, pet waste, fertilizers and other garden chemicals.
In places where there still are old connections to the sewer
system and/or if the pipes are damaged and leaking, the
storm drains also may be picking up sewage.
The article by Janice Bourque contains
suggestions about what you as property owners can do to
keep contaminants out of the city storm system. The city’s
responsibility is to provide and to maintain the public
infrastructure in good working order, well functioning
It is important to consider the city’s stormwater system
within the context of the vast underground plumbing
system that Newton maintains to serve its citizens. We must
provide residents with clean water, remove waste water
(sewage), and drain rain water from properties and streets.
These systems are the extensions of the plumbing systems
that our homes and businesses require to sustain our lives
and work. Beneath Newton’s approximately 300 miles of
streets, we have an almost equal length each of water, sewer
and storm water pipes, as well as associated pump stations,
manholes, catch basins, culverts, outflows, etc., that
complete the public infrastructure that the city must
steward. Much of these systems are now very old, leaking
and in need of repair, which usually means cleaning and
relining but in some cases requires replacement.
So, how are we doing with our stormwater system?
Keep in mind that it is a huge system. We have 320 miles
of stormwater drain pipes, 12,750 catch basins, two pump
stations, 155 major outfalls (the places where the drain pipes end), 200+ interior outfalls, and seven miles of
streams that are part of the system.
There are several things to consider, including the
condition and capacity of this infrastructure, the ongoing
maintenance efforts needed to keep the system clean and
in repair (such as cleaning storm drains), and the way that
other city infrastructure (sewers) and operations (street
cleaning) impact the system.
Beginning in the winter of 2011, Alderman Fuller and I began
working closely with the City’s executive office and the water,
sewer, and stormwater divisions to arrive at a comprehensive
understanding of the condition of these systems, and in the
spring of 2011 we resolved to prepare a strategic plan,
including a financing mechanism, to bring these systems up
to a point of “predictable maintenance.” We found that the
Department of Public Works has maintained excellent data on
the condition of the water and sewer systems but that needed
repairs and maintenance have been underfunded for many
decades. With its data and numerous financial analyses, the City
completed a ten-project-area, eleven-year plan for the sewer
system, targeting the oldest and leakiest parts of the system first,
and a longer-term plan for the water system, the first three
years of which will correct for water pressure needed to serve
fire-fighting requirements. There is an excellent PowerPoint
presentation detailing the plan on the city website:
This plan is approved, funded, and on schedule.
Although our storm drainage system is as
old as our streets, the city does not have
the same quality of information on this
system as yet. We must complete the
comprehensive evaluation. More on that
in a moment.
|| A stormwater retention area is being built to keep parking lot runoff out of Hammond Pond
Work on the sewer system is relevant and
important to a well functioning storm
water system. The network of pipes and
culverts that carry theoretically clean storm water from our
streets eventually drains into the Charles and a few other
isolated bodies of water, such as our treasured Crystal Lake.
We do not want contaminants entering this system.
However, one of the largest contributors of contaminants is
due to some of the oldest sewer systems in the city, where “underdrains” were used in areas of high ground water to
lower the water table and to allow for sewer lines to be
installed above them in dry ground.
In those days it was thought that the underdrains should
also be used to flush out the sewers periodically, so they
were deliberately connected back up to the sewers.
This both puts clean rain water into our sewer system
(which we pay to send to Deer Island for treatment) and
also delivers sewage to the underdrain, which really is part
of the storm water system.
Newton has about 70 miles of underdrains beneath sewer
mains. They exist in generally older areas of the city.
Underdrains will be disconnected from the sewer mains
as we update the sewer system.
That’s a lot of information before we even get to a storm
As mentioned earlier, we need first to fund and then to
undertake a comprehensive assessment of the storm water
system and its component parts before we can develop
a plan to prioritize repairs to the system.
By several recent estimates, this assessment, which involves
underground camera work—sort of like arthroscopic
surgery, will cost approximately $350,000. The City is
discussing ways to fund this need. There is a storm water
reserve fund that accrues from the small fee property
owners pay into that fund. Newton was one of the first
Massachusetts communities to recognize the need for, and
to establish, such a fund, but to date it has proven
insufficient to cover even the yearly maintenance of the
system. Currently, homeowners pay $6.25 quarterly into
that fund, and businesses pay $150 per year, regardless of
the size of the property and its amount of impervious
surface. In other words, a large shopping mall with a huge
parking lot that creates a lot rainwater runoff pays the same
$150 fee as a small retail store with no parking lot.
A little more work is needed, but the Aldermen should be able
to vote next spring on a plan to restructure these fees to make
them fairer. We expect to keep residential fees constant but to
assess larger commercial property owners
according to their impervious area. Taking
this step to adjust commercial fees would
add to the reserve sufficiently to fund the
assessment. However we fund the assessment,
we need to do it as soon as possible in
order to avoid costly repairs on emergency
basis only so that we are managing risk,
rather than being subject to it.
One last point to keep in mind: there are new EPA
stormwater regulations that require more stringent pollution
prevention requirements. The City will need to make
additional investments in coming years for this as well.
Newton’s underground infrastructure working group
continues to meet regularly to review progress on all
elements of the strategic plan. Members of the working
group include Fred Russell, Director of Water/Sewer; COO
Bob Rooney; Commissioner of Public Works Dave Turocy;
City Engineer Lou Taverna; Utilities Superintendent Ted
Jerdee; and consulting engineers Weston & Sampson. As
needed, the group has been joined by CFO Maureen
Lemieux, Comptroller Dave Wilkinson, and former Water
& Sewer Accounts Manager Ryan Ferraro.
We should have more interesting information to share in
the coming months and would love to keep you posted.