Earlier in April I had a fantastic talk with Declan Devine from the Neponset River Watershed Association. I live in the town of Milton, Massachusetts, right next to part of the Neponset River, and have participated in some of their river cleanup efforts in the past. With that in mind, I wanted to learn more about the work that the NepRWA does and take a deeper dive into some of their amazing solutions to local environmental issues. Declan covered a wide range of NepRWA’s work, which I’ll highlight below. 

The Effects of Water Runoff

As the Environmental Science Fellow, Declan coordinates the Citizen Water Monitoring Network and assists with water sampling and other environmental science projects. So, I began my conversation with him by asking about how storm drains on our streets work today. 

I was completely taken back when he told me that water runoff from the streets entering storm drains doesn’t get filtered or treated at a plant. Rather, it gets flushed right into local waterways! Just think of all of the junk you see on the street, from trash to dead leafs, all flowing into rivers and streams. 

Surprisingly, at least to me, is the fact that one of the biggest concerns with water runoff is phosphorus. Excessive levels of this element in our waterways can cause things like algae blooms which abuse water ecosystems and create harmful toxins. Luckily, Declan explained how solutions do exist to help mitigate and ultimately prevent this from happening. 

Since one of the main contributors to phosphorus mixing with waterways is from grass clippings, a simple fix is to simply pick them up if they’re close to a storm drain and either bag them for pickup or add them to your compost pile if you have one. Expanding beyond just phosphorus runoff, it is important to minimize other materials from entering storm drains such as fertilizers, soaps, and pesticides. A good example of this is washing your car in your driveway. This requires lots of water and soap, and potentially other materials that might be harmful for waterways. A great solution is to wash your vehicle near the lawn so that the water runoff seeps into the ground and not down the driveway into a storm drain. 

Cleanup, Cleanup, Everybody Everywhere 🎶

NepRWA helps promote these best practices on their website, but also turns their words into actions in a variety of ways. As Declan explained, community cleanups are a big part of his organization and are a great way to both improve our local waterways while also building more of a community connection with the environment. At this year’s bi-annual fall cleanup, he told me they must have had 200-300 volunteers across the neponset river watershed. I was astounded and impressed, especially considering how difficult a year it has been with the pandemic. 

Thinking Outside the Box

Beyond the physical cleaning up of the community, he went on to explain how much of the NepRWA’s work involves education and policy change. The educational side includes things like workshops in school classrooms to explain our local ecosystem and ways for everyone to do their part to keep it clean. On the policy end, it often involves meeting and discussing issues with the Massachusetts Statehouse. For example, they’ve been urging legislators to prioritize adequate funding of key environmental agencies charged with administering and enforcing environmental laws. I learned on our call that these aspects of the NepRWA that might seem boring to some are in fact just as important to improving the local environment as the cleanups and water maintenance. 

I ended my call by thanking Declan for his time, and reiterating my appreciation for all the positive work that the NepRWA does. Although I have not participated in a cleanup in several years, I am looking forward to helping out at the next big one in the fall. In the meantime, we can all do our part by being mindful of our water runoff and how we dispose of our waste. One of the easiest first steps is to learn more about the local Neponset River Watershed on the NepRWA website